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A true-blue swashbuckler takes place in the good old days when gentlemen proved their honor at the tips of their swords. All you needed was a steady blade, a fine set of mustachios, and a devastating effect on the ladies to be a genuine swashbuckler. Bravery, romance, justice and revenge were the order of the day. Soldiers, swordsmen, and spies vied for riches, glory, and fame. These are the original adventure stories, action-packed all the way. There’s often a sense of humor to a swashbuckler, a tongue-in-cheek tone combined with a narrative tendency to cheerfully fling heroes into all sorts of messes and scrapes and expect them to emerge ready for more. No one actually swashes a buckle in a these books (the definition of a swashbuckler is “a swaggering or daring soldier or adventurer”), but still, we’re talking about champions rescuing damsels in distress with astonishing acts of derring-do—in other words, real high adventure stuff. Whether the tone is as light the feather in a soldier’s hat or as dark as a sweeping black cape in the night, when it comes to reading about these dashing young men and their thrilling adventures, we just can’t get enough.    Print this list Print this list
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Cover Art: Zorro : a novel /
Zorro : a novel
Allende, Isabel
Zorro is every bit as legendary as the Three Musketeers. This crafty eighteenth-century revolutionary is more than a swashbuckler; he’s also an early type of the mask-and-cape superhero with a secret identity (Zorro, in fact, was first invented as a new caped crusader for a 1919 pulp magazine). In this retelling, we get the origin story of colonial California’s very own Robin Hood. Diego de la Vega is the son of a wealthy Spanish officer and a beautiful Native American woman. Always conscious of his mixed heritage, young Diego witnesses first-hand the shameful inequalities native Californians (including his good friend Bernardo) suffer at the hands of the ruling Europeans. Diego is sent to Spain to complete his education and recruited to La Justica, a secret society dedicated to fighting the powers of oppression and injustice. When Diego returns to California to fight for the rights of the land and the people he loves, the legend of the masked avenger Zorro is born. Author Isabel Allende believes that the glory of this swashbuckler lies in the history behind the hero, everything from childhood dreams to duels with his fencing master to a desperate love affair. There are modern touches as well to endear us modern readers to the old-fashioned tale—social reform, class differences, and a richly detailed historical context that make us love this rapier-wielding, Z-slashing mystery man even more. Allende is a highly accomplished, award-winning, critically-acclaimed novelist, and with Zorro she’s all that and a rousing adventure story.
Adult Fiction ALLENDE
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Cover Art: Gentlemen of the road /
Gentlemen of the road
Chabon, Michael
Zelikman is a scarecrow thin, rapier-wielding doctor from the Frankish countries. Amram is a giant African ex-soldier with a very large battle ax. Together they are gentlemen of the road—swords-for-hire making their way through the Caucasus Mountains in the year 950 A.D. Their code of honor, such as it is, extends only to each other and their loyal steeds. But when they end up burdened with Prince Filaq of the Khazar Empire, they also find themselves unaccountably moved to help the young royal avenge himself upon his usurping uncle and reclaim his rightful throne. It won’t be an easy journey—Zelikman is moody, Amram is sarcastic, and privileged Filaq is just plain bad-tempered—but it will be a swashbuckling adventure filled with sword fights, surprising secrets, and even herds of exotic elephants. Michael Chabon is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has delved into every genre from mystery to fantasy. When he tries his hand at high adventure here with Gentlemen of the Road, he is certain to be a rousing success. The action, which takes place over one thousand years ago, is deftly and richly described. The characters are real and funny, and the adventure always rings true. Illustrations by Gary Gianni heighten the action and give a real feel that the reader is holding what is sure to be a terrifically fun story.
Adult Fiction CHABON
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Cover Art: The pirates! in an adventure with Napoleon /
The pirates! in an adventure with Napoleon
Defoe, Gideon
This is the fourth in the madcap Pirates! series by Gideon Defoe, whose swashbuckling pirates have previously run amok with Charles Darwin, Captain Ahab, and communists. This time around, the dashing Pirate Captain is nursing a wounded ego (he’s lost the Pirate of the Year Awards) on the tropical island of St. Helena. Unfortunately, there’s already another big ego with a sword on the island—the freshly exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. Rivalry ensues. Defoe delights in anachronisms and making fun of sea adventure stereotypes (witness the Pirate Captain’s attempts to win over the residents of St. Helena with a hand-crafted statue of the Queen made from potato chips). Unabashedly juvenile, farcical, nonsensical, even ridiculous, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon wants nothing more than to make you throw aside your sword with hysterical laughter—but watch out for where it lands since, as the Pirate Captain would be sure to say, the sharp end of a sword can be rather pointy.
Adult Fiction DEFOE
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Cover Art: The tale of Despereaux : being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and
The tale of Despereaux : being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and
DiCamillo, Kate
The Tale of Despereaux is an adventure story for children, a mini-swashbuckler if you will. In fact, the moral of the story is that you can accomplish anything, even if you are very small. In a fairy-tale kingdom far away, a mouse named Despereaux Tilling is born. Despereaux is not like the other mice—he is very tiny, and very brave, and very much in love with the human Princess Pea. Despereuax knows that a true knight must go on a quest to win the love of a fair lady. Armed with a needle for a sword and his own romantic yearnings, Despereaux sets out on an adventure that will come to include the stories of lonely Princess Pea and her family; a dim-witted but wishful girl named Miggery Sow; and Chiaroscuro, a rat who loves the light. Author Kate DiCamillo is a skilled and subtle writer, seamlessly weaving compelling storylines with important messages for her readers, regardless of what age they are. The illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering are elegant and atmospheric. Even though it is a children’s book, this is not a kind, gentle adventure story. There is real danger and tragedy in The Tale of Despereaux. It may be a swashbuckler of junior status, but it still has enough action, romance, and heart to satisfy any hero with a sword and a sense of honor.
Children's Fiction DICAMIL
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Cover Art: The three musketeers /
The three musketeers
Dumas, Alexandre, 1802-1870
If you think The Three Musketeers is a stodgy old classic, think again. It is the original swashbuckler and an adventure story that has stood the test of time through hundreds of editions and translations, spin-offs, and movies. Hell, it’s even got a candy bar named after it. The Musketeers are the private bodyguards of King Louis XIII of France in 1624, and the three signaled out by the title are long-standing members of this guard: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. But the real hero of the story is reckless young d’Artagnan, a wannabe Musketeer who must prove his mettle and his devotion to the cause as the trio fight to defend king, queen, and honor against a devious Cardinal and mysterious spy known only as “Milady.” Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan set the mold (and maybe break it too) for the dashing, daring, laughing-in-the-face-of-danger gentleman type that we associate with a swashbuckler. The story was first written over one hundred and sixty years ago, but it’s the sort of legendary stuff that the world will never be too old for. The Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, if you can get your hands on it, is a real treat to read, complete as it is with a very readable and rousing new translation and a gleefully comic illustrated cover.
Adult Fiction DUMAS
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Cover Art: The reavers /
The reavers
Fraser, George MacDonald, 1925-2008
…And then the swashbuckler descended into chaos. This is a rousing, rambling, rowdy tale of spies, highwaymen, and luscious ladies. On the border of Scotland and England, a plot led by the mysterious mastermind La Infamosa is underway to kidnap King James and replace him with a Scottish imposter. But there are some forces of, um, good who stand in the way--Archie Noble, whose rugged good looks make him the perfect Elizabethan-era James Bond; Lady Godiva Dacre, who is nothing short of a knockout; her plump, dimwitted maid-in-waiting Kylie; and Gilderoy, the sex appeal-oozing thief/secret agent. There’s the fast-paced swordplay of a classic swashbuckler; there’s also good old-fashioned fistfights. We’ve got witty puns told in Scottish accents and villains twirling their mustachios at veiled ladies. For cloak-and-dagger intrigue and whole lot of inspired silliness, look no further than The Reavers. George MacDonald Fraser is best known for his series about Sir Harry Flashman, a Victorian-era cad who goes out of his way to avoid ever swashing any buckle of any kind. Fraser died early in 2008, so fans of Flashman’s adventures are certain to get a kick out of this delightfully nonsensical swan song.
Adult Fiction FRASER
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Cover Art: The princess bride : S. Morgenstern's classic tale of true love and high adventu
The princess bride : S. Morgenstern's classic tale of true love and high adventu
Goldman, William, 1931-
Most of us know The Princess Bride best from the charming 1987 film version, but it was a book first, and an equally delightful one at that (due in part, no doubt, to author of book and screenplay being one and the same in William Goldman). The Princess Bride takes all the glory, revenge, and romance from classic swashbuckling adventure stories (like The Three Musketeers, Zorro, and The Scarlet Pimpernel) and turns the whole mess on its ear. There’s still adventure galore, but Goldman frames his book as an old classic that needs all the boring historical parts edited out in order to get readers to the good action bits. It’s a hilarious premise, since Goldman’s descriptions of what’s been cut (and why he’s decided to make those cuts) are as clever as the rest of the adventure, which pits the beautiful Princess Buttercup and her true love Westley against an evil genius, a six-fingered man, and a power-hungry future king (not to mention a giant, a pirate, and a down-on-his luck swordsman). Filled with comic duels of the mind and the heart, The Princess Bride is a charming story that both critiques and celebrates the classic swashbuckler.
Adult Fiction GOLDMAN
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Cover Art: The scarlet Pimpernel /
The scarlet Pimpernel
Orczy, Emmuska Orczy, Baroness, 1865-1947
The Scarlet Pimpernel is, like the Three Musketeers and Zorro, a defender of truth and justice during a time of oppression—he’s just not quite as well known. But his story was a best-seller in its day and still makes for a swashbuckling good read. It is 1792, the beginning of the French Revolution and the reign of the bloody Guillotine. A secret society of Englishman has formed to save their French counterparts from the blade; their leader is a dashing masquerader known only as the Scarlet Pimpernel from the small red flower he leaves as his calling-card. But the Scarlet Pimpernel is in danger of betrayal from a beautiful woman. Marguerite St. Just is the wife of idiotic Englishman Percy Blakeney, and her heart has been captured by the daring exploits of the Pimpernel. Marguerite has also unintentionally sent one of her countryman to his death on the guillotine, and her brother is known to be in league with the Pimpernel. When the dastardly Citizen Chauvelin offers Marguerite her brother’s life in exchange for information about the secret society, the Scarlet Pimpernel will need all his wily ways to escape the evil clutches of the French and still save the day. Readers of this stirring tale will not be surprised to learn that the Scarlet Pimpernel, with his secret identity and daring deeds, was the blueprint for every masked avenger who came racing to the rescue later.
Adult Fiction ORCZY
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Cover Art: Captain Alatriste /
Captain Alatriste
Perez-Reverte, Arturo
Captain Alatriste is a soldier for a country that’s down on its luck. Spain’s unbeatable Armada has been beaten, and the Spanish Inquisition is under way. So Alatriste makes his living hiring out his hand and his sword. One such employment—coming just when it’s needed most, as Alatriste has just gotten out of debtor’s prison—has Alatriste and a fellow assassin quietly snuffing out the lives of two English travelers late one night. But something about the Englishmen, something noble and worthy, stays Alatriste’s hand. His sense of honor now re-awoken, Alatriste finds himself smack in the middle of a political intrigue involving the most powerful political forces in seventeenth century Spain and England. Narrated with acute observation by Alatriste’s young squire Iñigo and chock-full of rich historical detail, Captain Alatriste is an ideal swashbuckler. This is cloak-and-dagger action that highlights a thoughtful, elegant plot with a dashing hero who is worth following into any adventure. Captain Alatriste is the introductory title in a series about the heroic swordsman; every title has been a bestseller in author Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s Spanish homeland. Elegant new translations ensure that Alatriste will win hearts on this side of the ocean just as easily. The sequels, in order, are Purity of Blood, The Sun Over Breda, and The King’s Gold. Pérez-Reverte is a master of these literary historical thrillers; for more of his swashbuckling style, try The Fencing Master as well.
Adult Fiction PEREZ-REV
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Cover Art: The secret history of the Pink Carnation /
The secret history of the Pink Carnation
Willig, Lauren
This is an updated swashbuckler, a story that combines the modern world with history—and throws in a bit of chick lit romance for good measure. Harvard graduate Eloise Kelly is completing her dissertation about English spies (like the aforementioned Scarlet Pimpernel) when she comes across a trunk of letters and documents about a previously unknown historical spy. Soon Eloise and the reader are plunged into a novel-within-the-novel, the story of Amy Balcourt in the year 1803. Amy and her brother Edouard set off to Paris to join the league of another dashing spy, the Purple Gentian. But Eloise in the twenty-first century and Amy in the nineteenth century are both obsessed with the story of the very mysterious Pink Carnation, even as romance appears in both the present and the past in the form of a pair of dashing gentlemen with secrets of their own. Part literary detective story, part historical thriller, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation updates the classic swashbuckler while remaining true to its spirit. For more of the Pink Carnation’s history, read the rest of the books in Willig’s Pink Carnation series: The Masque of the Black Tulip, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, and The Temptation of the Night Jasmine.
Adult Fiction WILLIG
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