Captain Blood! Many of you may know of an Errol Flynn movie by this name. Those of you who have seen it will remember swashbuckling, romance, and adventure on the high seas, full of snappy banter and gorgeous headwear. These people will be thrilled to learn that it was based on a book by Rafael Sabatini, which is exactly the same only much more so: there's much more banter, the romantic tension is dialed up to 11, and there are many, many more sea battles.
As for the book: Somewhere in the south part of England—1685. The little town of Bridgewater. In the distance, a tumult—the battle between the brave Duke of Monmouth, hero of the Protestant faith, and that man of blood James, second of his name.
And pottering imperturbably about in the sun, Dr Peter Blood, watering his geraniums.
Blood, though still young, doesn't care to go adventuring again. Having fought in campaigns across Europe, he wishes only to settle down, practice medicine, and keep to himself. Then he makes the treasonous mistake of doctoring a fugitive of Monmouth's broken army, and for his pains Judge Jeffreys deports him as a slave to Jamaica, where he ends up being bought by the beautiful and charming Arabella Bishop (ooh, the indignity!) and put to work under her brute of an uncle. Slavery is a bit much for Blood to stomach, and at the first opportunity he escapes, steals a ship, and sails away with a crew of fellow escapees to try a little piracy—but not without leaving his resentful heart in Arabella's keeping.
Blood finds himself a natural at sowing despair in the Spanish Main, plundering towns, and escaping the snares of his enemies. But two superpowers, England and Spain, want him dead; piracy and the company of pirates presents him with tough moral dilemmas; and he can't get his mind off the woman who bought him, whom he believes he hates...
As you can imagine, it's a ripping, extremely dramatic yarn. Sabatini wrote many, many swashbuckling novels full of thrilling adventure, sword fighting, and (sometimes hilariously) overblown romance. Of all of them (and you have probably heard of one or two others, such as Scaramouche or The Sea-Hawk) I believe Captain Blood is the most well-written. The balance between adventure, romance, and history is deftly managed and the characters are vividly drawn. It's one of those pleasures you don't have to feel too guilty about!
Gutenberg/Arthur's Classic Novels etext