Schoonover, Lawrence L. The Burnished Blade.

NY: Macmillan, 1948.

Schoonover was a very popular historical novelist in the 1940s and ‘50s, though he’s largely forgotten today. My father was a fan, though, and bought all his books, and so I read his copies more than half a century ago. Something brought him to mind recently and I began searching out his novels, of which I remembered only bits and pieces, and I’m glad I did.

This is his earliest successful work and I still think it’s his best; it played a significant part when I was an adolescent in getting me interested in the world of Renaissance Europe and the twilight of the Byzantine Empire. The story begins near Rouen in 1431 when the knightly parents of seven-year-old Pierre are killed in the forest by brigands and the boy is rescued in timely fashion by a priest and entrusted to a friend of his, a renowned Italian armorer resident in the city. After having so recently seen the bodies of his parents burned, Pierre unfortunately witnesses the death of the Maid of Orleans, but he eventually gets over it as he is adopted into the family of Hugh of Milan and grows up in a happy and well-connected family. He gets an education, learns a number of languages, and meets some important people who are clients of his foster father. He saves a young noblewoman from an unpleasant demise during the plague (another fire), which leads him to employment by Jacques Coeur, the financial genius who was instrumental in making France, which had barely survived the Hundred Years’ War, into one of the powerhouses of the modern Western world. Then an investigation into an opium-smuggling operation between the Eastern Empire and France (which deprives both governments of their tax revenues) takes him off to Constantinople as Coeur’s agent, and then to Trebizond on the Black Sea, where Pierre not finds himself in great danger but also succeeds in his greatest ambitions. There’s a certain amount of swashbuckling, plus inn-destroying drunken fights, evil Bulgarians, gallant Venetians, cautious Turks, and scheming Greeks, but it’s all at a reasonable, believable level, and Schoonover imparts a great deal of quite accurate information about the 15th century Mediterranean world. There’s also a love story, of course, and a happily-ever-after sort of ending, but that’s okay. Because this book was written when it was, the sex is only occasionally and very lightly hinted at. Oh, and there’s also a thoroughly vivid execution by impalement as a denouement which has stuck in my mind since I first read the book so many years ago. This is an author who deserves to be rediscovered.


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