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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Captain Alatriste, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

What a great book.

Started 2/14, finished 2/22.

Not to be shallow, but doesn't the Arturo Pérez-Reverte have the coolest name ever?

So, it took my 8 days to finish this because of the Black Evil, otherwise known as Madden 2006 for the PlayStation. I believe I would have finished it in 3 had it not been for that. Someone who really reads fast could probably finish it in an afternoon, and my bet is that's what the author intended. I would say it's meant to be devoured in a short period of time, except that would imply it reads like a screenplay. Far from it. Like The Club Dumas, the translation is very well done, and if the prose of the original Spanish isn't lush and beautiful I'd be very surprised.

In the 1620s, in Madrid, there lives a war veteran, Diego Alatriste y Tenorio, known as Captain Alatriste. He's a sword-for-hire, confronting blackguards on behalf of cuckolded husbands and unpaid bookmakers, and dispatching them for a few doubloons. In this adventure, he is hired by two masked men to rob a pair of English noblemen who are traveling in Madrid. Once the arrangement is struck, one of the masked men leaves. A friar of the Inquisition then appears as though through divination, and instructs Alatriste not to merely rob them, but to kill them.

Once Alatriste is in the situation where he would kill the Englishmen, something starts to feel wrong. He chooses not to kill them, and prevents his fellow murderer from doing the same. Once he installs them at the villa of a friend, he finds out who they are. He also finds out that, by sparing thier lives, he has prevented a war between Spain and England that would have changed forever the history of Europe. Suddenly, Alatriste is forced to protect himself from those who hired him, as well as from those who don't want the world to know what his charge had been. Hijinks ensue.

And what hijinks they are...

The story is told from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old boy, Iñigo Balboa, the son of a Basque soldier who once saved Alatriste's life, and then lost his own. The young Balboa tells this tale as an old man, remembering the days with not a little romance and historical perspective, and occasionally you suspect that the narrator is embellishing with a smirk on his face. It all rings true. As the captain confronts his problems of life and death, the boy is falling in love with a beautiful but dangerous girl, told in such a way that would inspire nostalgia in anyone. This choice of POV is vital to the quality of the story. It allows the author a great many lenses with which to view the action, and it's obvious that he chose well when to employ them all.

Imagine my delight when I found out that Pérez-Reverte has written 5 of these books, and plans 2 more! The second has just been released in English, with the rest to follow up shortly. I can't wait until they come out - it's a bit of Dumas for those who want Dumas stories about Madrid instead of Paris. It's the kind of story I would read to my kids, and only edit a little for the violence. It's fun for the sake of fun, and as a side effect you learn a bit about history and gain a strong perspective on what it was like to live in the period.

Book #8 will be The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen.



Blogger incandragon said...

Wow. *I'm* sold on it!

Thu Feb 23, 07:25:00 AM  

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