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The Fencing Master (Panther) [Paperback]

Arturo Perez-Reverte , Margaret Jull Costa
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

30 Dec 1999 Panther
Fencing is not a game but a science. The outcome is invariably the same: triumph or disaster, life or death...It is 1868; Spain teeters on the brink of revolution. Jaime Astarloa is a master-fencer of the old school, priding himself on the precision, dignity and honour of his ancient art; his friends spend their days in cafes discussing plots at court, but Jaime's obsession is to perfect the irresistible sword thrust. Then Adela de Otero, violet-eyed and enigmatic, appears at his door. When Jaime takes her on as a pupil he finds himself embroiled in dark political intrigues against which his old-fashioned values are no protection.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: The Harvill Press; New edition edition (30 Dec 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860466656
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860466656
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.6 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,466,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Arturo Perez Reverte lives near Madrid. Originally a war correspondent, he now writes fiction full time. His novels include THE FLANDERS PANEL, THE CLUB DUMAS, THE FENCING MASTER, THE SEVILLE COMMUNION, THE NAUTICAL CHART, THE QUEEN OF THE SOUTH and the bestselling CAPTAIN ALATRISTE series. In 2003 he was elected to the Spanish Royal Academy. His website can be visited at

Author photo (c) Jon Barandica

Product Description

Amazon Review

Described as a "master of the intellectual thriller", Arturo Perez-Reverte has established himself as a major figure in European fiction. The English translation of The Fencing Master, first published in Spanish in 1988, follows the critical success of The Flanders Panel and The Dumas Club.

Contemplative, skilful, and--in a quiet way--melancholy, The Fencing Master is a foray into historical fiction: Perez-Reverte draws his figures against the background of a Madrid sweltering on the eve of Spain's September Revolution in 1868. Each of its eight chapters begins with an epigraph to the art which emerges as a way of interpreting the world through this novel: fencing. Jaime Astarloa, the master, has made fencing his life and legacy, and it's through his eyes--the eyes of a man who wants to resist the vulgar progress of 19th-century politics and passions--that the mystery, and tragedy, of the book unfold. It begins with a woman who wants to learn fencing--"At that moment, someone knocked at the door, and nothing would ever again be the same in the fencing master's life"--a woman who draws Astarloa into a world of political and erotic intrigue which will test his art to the limit.--Vicky Lebeau


"You will want to reach the book's nearly perfect ending in a single sitting" (Time Out)

"The author is in the best sense a romantic and to read him is to rediscover the delights of Dumas and Conan Doyle" (Amanda Craig The Times)

"As assured and elegant as Don Jaime's sword thrusts" (Stephanie Merritt Observer)

"A delight... the thriller as it out to be" (Allan Massie Scotsman) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
Much later, when Jaime Astarloa wanted to piece together the scattered fragments of the tragedy and tried to remember how it all began, the first image that came to his mind was of the marquis and of the gallery in the palace overlooking the Retiro Gardens, with the first heat of summer streaming in through the windows, accompanied by such brilliant sunlight that they had to squint against the dazzle on the polished guards of their foils. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Failure in success. 5 May 2000
By A Customer
Perez-Reverte's The fencing Master is in part a simple thriller but underneath the story line he develops some interesting themes. Primarily the hero, Don Jaime's inability to adapt as a ageing fencing master during Spain's September Revolution of 1868. A time when the sword was being replaced by ever more realiable rifle and revolvers as the primary weapons of war.
Don Jaime lives in the past and tries to shut himself away from the turmoil occurring around him. His personel quest is to invent the unanswerable sword thrust. Despite his best endeavors Don Jaime is unwittingly pulled ever further into the intrigue occurring around him.
Don Jaime is a man of great passion but with an inability to bring voice to that passion; he is a man of deed and unspoken honour. Alone even with people around him, he is put to the sword by the passion of a dark beautiful women who becomes his pupil. Adela de Otera is young, modern, outward thinking, dark and complex but also a superb fencer.
The author contrasts Don Jaime Astarlo's ideal world where honour is upheld toe to toe with the real world in which a stab in the back is the reality. Jaime Astarlo's world is blown apart, you could view him as a failure through his inability to grasp reality and his naivity or a success in living to his ideals against all odds. Does the Maestro fail or do the people around him fail to match his standards?
The thriller storyline in this book is quite predictable but it is the beauty in which the story is told and the characters portrayed that makes this a great book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What makes a book worth reading? 15 Mar 2000
If it changes the way you view yourself, if it makes you yearn to be something more, know more about a subject which was previously uninteresting to you, then I'd say a book is good. "The Fencing Master" did all that to me. Set in the revolutionary times of 19th century Spain, the story revolves around the ageing Maestro, adrift in a world that no longer seems to make sense to him. He lives by his code of honour and according to the rules of his craft, hiding from the changes that occur around him, until a beautiful stranger enters his life and changes it irrevocably. "The Fencing Master" is a book that, even though the intrigue might not be the most original, still manages to get five stars, mainly because of the way it describes the main character, his way of thinking, and, of course, his fencing. Now where can I find a teacher like that for my new hobby...?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric, intriguing and mentally stimulating 12 Jan 2005
Madrid has always been an atmospheric city for me so overjoyed to have discovered this book that transports you there in the 19th century. The characters are well drawn, the plot is compulsive and the prose is beautiful. You are hooked on the first page because there is a story! Fabulous.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
OK. Firstly, I read very little historical fiction. Secondly, I read very little which was not written in English. No reason why not, but that's how it is. Thirdly, I know nothing about fencing.
But I enjoyed this book immensely.
I bought it (from a normal bookshop, I confess) because I liked the cover and was interested in the first few pages. It's short, and usually I prefer longer books - it can give the author more time to explore their characters, but this is short and perfectly formed.
Don Jaime, the fencing master, is getting older and sees his living starting to dry up as swords and the art of fencing are replaced by more 'modern' weapons and pursuits. He uses fencing, and his pursuit of the perfect, unstoppable thrust to give his life form and context, ever unchanging against the background of turmoil engulfing Spain.
His life is turned upside down when a woman, beautiful and mysterious, persuades him to take her on as a student. He slowly finds himself falling in love with her, and his life is thrown into turmoil.
One the one hand, this is a thriller, plain and simple. Refined and elegant, but a thriller nonetheless. On the other, it is a study of a man entering old age unable to cope with the changes going on around him, and trying to cling onto the past - for that reason alone it will endure.
The only complaint I had about it is that the fencing terminology (of which there is much, as you would expect) is not explained. An appendix containing a glossary or perhaps even some diagrams would be tremendously helpful. I appreciate it's not really the kind of thing that books like this have, but if, like me, your knowledge of fencing is restricted to occasionally seeing it on the Olympics or in Zorro films, then all of the discussions or quatre and terce, foils and sabres is difficult to follow.
That said, it's a minor complaint, and the book is very enjoyable, and surprisingly moving.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK 23 July 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For me 'The Fencing Master' turned out a bit of a disappointment. Despite drawing various parallels between life and the fencing strip the book simply fails to reflect the frenzied intensity of the game.
Apart from that, it's a decent book. It's a detective story set in mid nineteenth century Spain. The main character is a reclusive fencing master in his fifties, who through a mysterious female client becomes embroiled in grizzly political intrigue.
The actual detective plot is a bit unoriginal but aside from that it is quite a touching story about an idealistic and lonely man trying to deal with the onset of old age. I liked the pacing (trotting along steadily most of the time and accelerating with suitable vigour towards the conclusion). The language and the general style of the narrative I found in places a bit wooden and contrived, but not so much as to really put me off.
All in all, I quite enjoyed the book, although I can't say I feel greatly enriched for having read it. My final judgement is: if you like detective stories and/or period drama you'll most likely enjoy 'The Fencing Master', otherwise, it's not really worth the bother.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Really good book, even on the second reading.
Published 11 days ago by Mark Gibson
4.0 out of 5 stars 1868
This was Perez-Reverte's first historic novel, featuring a 50-something traditionalist fencing master who ends up getting sucked into an awful scheme by the cunning & evil femme... Read more
Published 2 months ago by M. Baerends
5.0 out of 5 stars Introduction to European thinking.
For me, the reason books are important: I like other authors, but will always point to The Fencing Master as to why books are important.
Published 4 months ago by Mark O'Shea
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaing and compact book.
If, like me, you tire of some of the near 1000 page novels, The Fencing Master will be a pleasant experience. Read more
Published on 4 April 2011 by M. Saxby
5.0 out of 5 stars THE FENCING MASTER
A mystery, a love story, a political thriller but above all a beautifully written and equally beautifully translated novel that insists on being read almost at one sitting. Read more
Published on 15 Oct 2010 by J. Warner
4.0 out of 5 stars Touche or Cliche? Why not both?
I write this review in part as a response to the accusations that Perez-Reverte's debue novel 'The Fencing Master' is more cliche than touche. Read more
Published on 11 Mar 2003 by "doctor-skel"
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Prose
The reviewers of this book have said most things about this excellent novel. It is refreshing to read a well constructed novel which creates the characters with considerable... Read more
Published on 9 Jan 2003 by Speig
5.0 out of 5 stars A grand old "ripping yarn"
Like a less intellectual Umberto Eco novel, this is a well written and intelligent thriller.
Senor Perez Reverte keeps the pace going all through the story, though you may... Read more
Published on 4 Oct 2002 by "hypocrite_lecteur"
4.0 out of 5 stars A book with the rythm of a Fencing Bout
This book surprised me (it fell of the bookshelf while I was dusting? I hear you say...) Well, no! I only bought it because it's about fencing but I didn't know what to expect from... Read more
Published on 5 July 2001 by A. Venediktou
3.0 out of 5 stars Touche Maestro
Jaime Astarloa is a Fencing Maestro trained in the old school of the Maitres d'armes.He spends his days teaching his art to those who aspire to his level and in search of his... Read more
Published on 24 Mar 2001 by
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