The Last Cavalier : Being the Adventures of Count Sainte-Hermine in the Age of Napoleon Paperback
The lost final novel by the master of the epic swashbuckling adventure stories: The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
The last cavalier is Count de Sainte-Hermine, Hector, whose elder brothers and father have fought and died for the Royalist cause during the French Revolution.
For three years Hector has been languishing in prison when, in 1804, on the eve of Napoleon's coronation as emperor of France he learns what is to be his due.
Stripped of his title, denied the honour of his family name as well as the hand of the woman he loves, he is freed by Napoleon on the condition that he serves in the imperial forces.
So it is in profound despair that Hector embarks on a succession of daring escapades as he courts death fearlessly.
Yet again and again he wins glory - against brigands, bandits, the British, boa constrictors, sharks, tigers and crocodiles.
At the Battle of Trafalgar it is his bullet that fells Nelson.
But however far his adventures take him - from Burma's jungles to the wilds of Ireland - his destiny lies always with his father's enemy, Napoleon.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 816 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication Date: 06/05/2008
- Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780007274697
Showing 1 - 1 of 1 reviews.
Review by camillahoel
I was 10 when I read my way through the Musketeer-books that first time. They put me on a path I have followed since, both as a reader and a student. I still start grinning like a madwoman whenever I come across references to historical characters that remind me of these books, and I do not hesitate to place at their feet my subsequent interest in history.I have also been fascinated by unfinished narrative for a while, especially the kind of narrative which was originally published as a feuilleton and remains unfinished because of the author's death.When I stumbled across this newfound (2005) historic novel by Alexandre Dumas, never finished because he died … well. I had great expectations. I bought it, skipped away from the store clutching the copy, giggling. Now. My expectations, my <i>demands</i> when it comes to Dumas, are not only that the books be historically accurate (to a certain point). While it is my impression that the man knew his history, his interpretation of events is often a little to the side of the general consensus. I still struggle to realise that Charles I and II may not have been the paragons of virtue that <i>Vingt Ans Aprés</i> and <i>Le Vicomte de Bragelonne</i> had led me to believe. On the flip side, though, it is thanks to these books that I know what I do about the English Civil War, the Fronde, the Restoration and the introduction of the absolute monarchy in France. No, what I demand, first and foremost, of Dumas, is <i>good writing</i> and <i>good characters</i>. That is not altogether true. I expect characters that you can lift off the page and carry with you, characters that are not bound by plot or description. Is that too much to ask for?Reading <i>The Last Cavalier</i>, which is the English name of this new book (the French <i>Le Chevalier de Sainte-Hermine</i> (1869)<i></i>), was a terrible ordeal. Not because it is <i>bad</i> -- it isn't. It has some excellent parts. Let me try to explain. Dumas usually (and I am basing this on what I have read: I am not yet old enough to have read his entire opus) writes two main types of characters. Or at least I experience them as different.The first is what I think of as the fictional. They are often also based in real people (d'Artagnan being the star example, I suppose), but they are obscure enough that the author can mostly meld them as he sees fit. I suspect the reason why <i>The Three Musketeers</i> and the subsequent books have attained such a central place in world literature is because he here created truly live characters complete with idiosyncrasies and character flaws -- none of them are perfect, and that makes them more interesting to read, more endearing.The second type is the major historical character, those we already know of and quite a lot about. I have always admired Dumas' ability to make them complex and … real? He does not only focus on the larger political concerns, war and peace, does not paint in thick strokes of one colour. He presents the minor concerns, how they affect the larger decisions, their nobility <i>and</i> their flaws (although in the case of Charles I and II, that was lost on me). You have probably noticed how what I appreciate here is much the same as in the earlier group of characters. Complexity and humanity.There is a reason why I have divided the characters in this way, however. In the last type of characters, <i>The Last Cavalier</i> does live up to my expectations. The descriptions of Napoleon are exciting, and the same holds true for Caroudal and Nelson (although the latter does feel rather more like a sketch). They were <i>entertaining</i>. So entertaining that whenever the story returned to the protagonist, Hector de Sainte-Hermine, I just got depressed and put the book down. The gap between what this book could have been and what it is is overpowering, and this is primarily due to the protagonist. He is, thankfully, out of sight for long stretches, but when he shows back up he is so nauseatingly perfect I didn't know whether to laugh or vomit.If I had had to read <i>one</i> more time about how far he can throw cannon balls (with one hand, twelve meters), how accurately he can shoot (three bullets on top of each other in the bullseye), how high he climb in the mast of the ship during a storm while all others hesitate &c., &c. … if I had had to read "Huzzah! Huzzah! for Captain René <i>one</i> more time (René is a pseudonym he takes on), or yet another description of how easily he inspires complete loyalty in his men … ick. He kills Nelson, by never takes credit; he shoots tigers without any problems (all you have to do, after all, is shoot them in the eye, for a tiger is only dangerous when injured); he is nobel, faithful to a woman who thinks him dead; other women die of their love for him; he takes no credit for his feats, demands nothing, bleh … .It may be that Dumas felt there was simply too much to live up to for someone not disgustingly perfect. He had written about the Sainte-Hermine family before (in <i>Companions of Jehu</i>, for example), and as the last of the brothers Hector could not be allowed to betray the honour of the family in any way. And yet, he had to portray the last of a royalist family during the heyday of Napoleon. I also suspect the killing of Nelson was one of the core ideas. But the result is laughable. In a truly tragic way. That being said, I am glad I read it. I should perhaps again emphasise that the parts treating the larger historical events and characters are truly interesting (even if he goes a little overboard with details of the Battle of Trafalgar). I especially liked the sequence on Lady Hamilton, the great love of Nelson (I have known of her for a long time, but I have known very little about her). Similarly, the parts on Cadoudal and the Companions of Jehu in Bretagne. I notice I am almost about to suggest one read only these sections and skip everything to do with the main character, but that may be going too far.All this bitterness is due to my severe disappointment. The foundation of this story is potentially brilliant; the constellation of historical persons and evens intriguing; even Hector's background story is quite seductive. So why couldn't he make it work?