Gardner F. Fox‘s The Borgia Blade is a distillate of Rafael Sabatini, served with a squeeze of romance novel in a man-sized pewter tankard. Fox streamlines the historical adventure novel, keeping only the good stuff. And yet at the same time one gets the impression that he’s putting all his research on the page. That is usually a criticism, suggesting an overstuffed narrative filled with extraneous minutiae. But not in this case. Borgia Blade is replete with period detail of the sort that delights the student of medieval and renaissance military history yet simultaneously serves the purpose of establishing time and place. Along with the careful depiction of attire, buildings, and furnishings, the verisimilitude Fox creates elevates Blade above a cliche-ridden. swashbuckling bodice-ripper (which in many glorious ways it is.)
Fox moves the plot along crisply, pulling off the seemingly contradictory feat of writing with both economy and verve. A rather standard issue protagonist, physically gifted yet hopelessly naive and easy prey to the simplest of traps and stratagems, Ilarion the stable boy and master swordsman becomes a pampered pet of a Machiavellian Cesare Borgia who hopes to use him as a pawn in a scheme that is revealed near the end of the novel. Most of the hints are there and it wouldn’t require Hercule Poirot to piece it all together. But that isn’t the point. Blade is not a mystery. It is a page-turning action tale, of the sort one might expect to have seen on the big screen in the heyday of Errol Flynn. The cover tells you all you need to know, though of course it is woefully inaccurate, depicting costuming from the late eighteenth century and a hero wielding a dress smallsword, rather than the late fifteenth, early sixteenth century Roman attire and rapier that the book describes. But my quibbling does not diminish the fun and bravura of The Borgia Blade.
If after reading it you find yourself still in the mood for action and adventure, you’ve come to the right shop. Most of what I’ve written would meet your requirement. But how about some Sword-and-Planet science fiction? Under Strange Suns will satisfy. Or if you’re looking for something in the fantasy, Sword-and-Sorcery department, why not try the Falchion’s Company series. (Ask me about codes for free audio books.)