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Monsieur D'Artagnan, meet Capitan Alatriste,
This review is from: Captain Alatriste (Hardcover)
I picked up Arturo Perez-Reverte's "Captain Alatriste" recently. I put another recent book down while I read the first couple of chapters, just to get a feel for the book. I ended up reading "Captain Alatriste" in virtually one sitting. The other book was placed on hold. I consider that high praise.
Captain Alatriste is set in Madrid, Spain in the early 17th-century. The Spanish Armada had already been defeated but Spain was still the world's greatest superpower. The Captain is recently home from fighting in Flanders in the Dutch war for independence from Spain. He has come home because of a serious wound that has left him unfit for the military. However, and like many of veterans of Spain's wars, he is fit enough to eke out a meager living as something of a gun, or sword, or knife for hire. He collects debts, avenges the honor of cuckolded husbands, and even kills for the right price. He is very good at his job.
The story is narrated by Inigo, the son of one of Alatriste's friends who died in combat while fighting alongside Alatriste. Inigo is sent to Madrid by his impoverished mother, to work for Alatriste. As Inigo notes with some irony, if the mother did not know how the Captain earned a living. The style of the narration is reminiscent of Watson's narratives in Sherlock Holmes.
The plot is rather simple and evokes memories of the plot lines of the swashbuckling books of yesteryear. Alatriste is summoned to meet with some mysterious, yet clearly influential people. He is hired to waylay two young British civilians on their way to Madrid. He receives conflicting information about the extent of the damage he is to inflict on the young men. Partnered up with a sinister accomplice the assault does not go according to plan. Alatriste is swiftly embroiled in the political intrigues that swirl around the Spanish royal court. Danger lurks everywhere. It would reveal too much of the plot to say much more but events careen rapidly until they reach the inevitable climax.
I think it fair to say that Reverte has not invented a new genre. Reverte honors the basic outlines of the romantic swashbuckling novel. A man of honor (and yes there is honor amongst hired guns) gets swept up, and almost swept awa in a sea of political intrigue. The corruption of the court and its courtiers is a given. In essence, the individual takes on a society that is morally bankrupt or rapidly on its way there. So although there is nothing uniquely new here, I think it also fair to say that Reverte does justice to the genre. The story is well written and fresh even if it follows a tried and true formula. Reverte does an excellent job making the streets, and street-life of 17th-century Madrid seem realistic. Reverte also has a flair for describing the changing status of Spain as a world power. He writes with clarity, of Spain's status (even after the Armada) or image to the world as the world's great superpower while conveying with great skills the internal corruption and decay that would soon topple Spain from those exalted heights.
Margaret Sayers Peden's translation seems very skillful. Captain Alatriste is filled with bits of poetry from Alatriste's group of friends. Poetry may be the most difficult work to translate while retaining the power of the words used in the original language. Yet the poems as translated by Pedens retain a certain gracefulness that is often lost in translation. This makes the book that much more satisfying to someone reading Reverte in English.
Captain Alatriste is a fast-paced enjoyable romp that can trace its literary heritage back to the likes Scaramouche, Captain Blood, and the Three Musketeers. It is a perfect book to read on a summer afternoon (or a winter evening for that matter).