The Last Cavalier: Being the Adventures of Count Sainte-Hermine in the Age of Napoleon Hardcover – May 27 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This first English translation of the last, previously unknown novel by Dumas (1802–1870) offers a stunning completion to his fictional mapping of French history. The plot centers on Compte Hector de Sainte Hermine, a royalist captured and imprisoned by Bonaparte. Part one finds him caught in the political intrigue of 1801–1804, as Napoleon moves from first consul to emperor. In part two, Hector, now known as René, is released from jail; he signs onto a French corsair as a common seaman, but his noble birth, superb education and martial abilities soon elevate him in rank. The next 300 pages slosh with swashbuckling sea adventure, casting heroic romance against the background of Napoleon's ultimate fall. It's Dumas at his best, but alloyed: asides; minibiographies; commentaries on fashion, manners, geography and history; and flashbacks pile up unendingly, leavened with farcical humor and witty punditry. Although it lacks the polish of The Three Musketeers and the concision of The Count of Monte Cristo, this capacious, rambling, unfinished account of the Napoleonic era represents vintage Dumas and an intensely personal vision of the time. (Nov.)
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About the Author
One of the most famous French writers of the nineteenth century, Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) first achieved success in the literary world a playwright, before turning his hand to writing novels. In two years from 1844 to 1855, he published two enormous books, The Count of Monte-Cristo and The Three Muskateers. Both novels have sold millions of copies worldwide.
Top Customer Reviews
Hector signs on as a Corsair instead of the regular Navy and the adventure begins. Bereft of his lost love and his family fallen before him, Hector's only wish is to live life to the fullest and if he must, to die as nobly as his father and brothers did. Problem is, no matter how hard he tries, he never succeeds. Thus begins battles at sea, a fight to the death at sea with a shark, hunting tigers and crocodiles and a close call with a python, as Hector carries off every situation with dignity, charm and élan. If this book hadn't been unknown until two years ago, I'd swear that Hector was the model for our present day super heroes. Swooning female? Out come the smelling salts and more from his bat-belt! It was so over the top and campy at times, but jolly good fun.
No, I'm not giving away the whole story -- actually the first half of the book has very little to do with Hector and very much to do with Napoleon at the start of his reign -- those who read the book jacket and expect it all to be about Hector and his heroics will be sorely disappointed. There is much politics, intrigue and battles about Europe. About half way through Hector comes back into the story and things cooked along for most of the rest of the book until the last 100 pages or so and then dragged down again. I'm not huge on battle scenes, so those were slow for me also, particularly the intricate details of the battle of Trafalgar. I confess to skipping a few pages there.
Readers should be advised that this recently discovered novel was never finished, and we'll never know where he planned to take the story in the end. There are many chapters of what appear to be needless characters, history and scenes, but not knowing how Dumas planned to complete the story, how are we to judge? I recall reading The Count of Monte Cristo and so many chapters that went off into another direction until the end where he pulled all the threads together in the end, and perhaps that is what Dumas planned with The Last Cavalier as well. We'll never know.
All in all, entertaining but far from my favorite Dumas and not one I'll plan to read again and again. Note, if you are new to Dumas this book should not be your first Dumas novel. But, for Dumas fans (and I'm one) this was an interesting read and I also learned much more about Napoleon than I ever picked up from the history books. Four stars.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com
The Last Cavalier reads almost like 2 separate works that have been pasted together. The first half focuses on Napoleon and on George Cadoudal. This half of the book is peppered with a number of very interesting historical facts (many of which I was ignorant of), but it is a bit slow at times. The first half also introduces our hero, Hector de Saint-Hermine and his family, but the focus is not yet on him. The second half is the story of Hector (aka Rene), and reads more like a novel.
To me, the most glaring flaw of The Last Cavalier is that the various plotlines are not tied together into a cohesive story. It is a long book, and unlike Dumas' other works it reads like a LONG book! The Count of Monte Cristo was itself over 1,200 pages long, but it was such a page-turner that it didn't at any point feel cumbersome or too wordy. Not the case with The Last Cavalier - a number of the wordy digressions are, in fact, nothing more than wordy digressions that don't add to the story. You really do get the feeling that Dumas is being paid by the word (which he often was). It took me a long time (about 2 months!) to finish the thing simply because it just didn't have the draw to keep me reading for very long periods at any one time, I kept putting it down and even contemplated giving up on it a few times.
The character of Rene is not particularly believable and despite the fact that he has faced great hardship, he's not that easy to sympathize with. He's invincible and is able to perform feats of daring, strength, skill, and even gluttony to the point that it's absurd. He also lacks a worthy antagonist - early on (and in fact it's stated in the book jacket) Napoleon is the long-time nemesis of Hector's family, but ultimately nothing ever comes of that. Hector does face a number of minor antagonists throughout the book, but none stick around long enough for their characters to get fully flushed out.
While this is a flawed work in my opinion, there are a few redeeming qualities. For one, the writing is excellent. For another, while the overall story isn't tied together very well, there certainly are brief periods of brilliance (when George Cadoudal reveals himself in a farmhouse; the wedding scene; some of the tales regarding the Companions of Jehu). These periodic flashes of greatness kept me from giving up on the story, as I would tell myself "ah, this is where the story really starts to get good!" ... alas, that never really happened. Finally, as I mentioned before the novel is peppered with a number of very interesting historical tidbits, particularly relating to George Cadoudal, Napoleon, and Lord Nelson. I'm not 100% certain to the general historical accurary, but some of the things I quickly checked on Wikipedia (which I realize isn't the most reliable source itself, but hey it's quick and generally is accurate) indicate that the history is pretty accurate.
In summary - if you are a huge fan of Alexandre Dumas and want to read everything he's ever written (or get as close as you can), then you certainly should read this. If, however, that is not the case or you are new to Dumas, do yourself a favor and read an unabridged copy of either The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, as his genius really shines through in both of those works.
If Dumas had time to actually finish The Last Cavalier (and by complete it I don't just mean write the ending, I mean go back through it and edit and delete or change things, as he often did before publishing a novel), it's entirely possible that this could ultimately have been a great work as well. But as it stands, it reads as a flawed and incomplete story.