This is one of those books one is tempted to report in exaggerated terms of personal enthusiasm until brought up sharp by awareness of the inevitable limitations of appeal. Lesley Blanch has had full measure of success with The Wilder Shores of Love (1954) and perhaps less with its successor, The Game of Hearts, (1955) period pieces both, playing with figures of scandal without succumbing to the temptation of the scabrous. The 19th century- the Regency- the far reaches of the Orient, the Near East, England and the Continent- period and regional flavor-and a rare gift of racontage- these perhaps concealed the scholar behind the narrator. Now with The Sabres of Paradise it is the scholar that is paramount, for here is a difficult area, a relatively unknown central figure, Shamyl the Avar, religious fanatic and military genius, and the confusing, contradictory history of the interrelationship of Russia and the stubborn, almost unconquerable Caucasus. It was the Time of the Shariat, the religious law, that motivated Shamyl, who dedicated his being to holding off the infidel Russians, sustaining Mohammed. What is done in the name of religion causes one to shudder today. (After all, the world marches.) The central biographical theme is sometimes lost in the immensity of her canvas, the richness of her backgrounds, the meticulously detailed descriptions of Russian life, at court, in the armies, even in the Siberian wastes -- and the vivid setting of the Caucasus, region of extremes. There is romantic drama here- there are revealing glimpses of successive rulers, there is the intricate interplay of complex politics, ambition, fanaticism on both sides. It is an unknown setting, an unfamiliar bit of history- this story of the thirty years in which one man was really responsible for blocking Imperial Russia's march of conquest. It is a wild tale, made difficult at times by the multiplicity of patterns, but somehow Lesley Blanch, historian, has still the same sense of selection of the factors that forward her story, even when the initial interest might seem somewhat remote from our consciousness.