Some time ago, my father bought me a collection of books by Pérez-Reverte (here you can take a look); the kind of collection you have to purchase with a certain newspaper, all of them at the same price: €8. I was delighted with my collection: all the author’s books until that moment, edited in a big format, with good paper and hard-covers, but I have to say I have only read two of them, even though I loved them, so that’s why I joined in the challenge about reading the Alatriste series. I had read Captain Alatriste years ago, but I only remembered the main details of the plot, and this second time I really enjoyed the reading much more than the first since I have commented on it with Leander and Timothy, who have also been reading it last week, and we have researched for the famous pictures of that time and the historical events that are described in the book in order to learn more and share our points of view.
Alatriste is a former soldier who had to leave the army because of a bad wound and now, without money or influences, he has to carry out some dishonest deeds to earn a living. We really could think he is an assassin, but Alatriste has his own code of honor: he always gives his adversaries a chance to defend themselves and he never kills old or young unarmed people. The story is set in the seventeenth century, just in the middle of the Spanish Golden Age, golden only for the aristocracy, but not for people like Alatriste and his friends.
This time he has to do a strange job: in a meeting with two masked men he and another man, Gualterio Malatesta, are asked to scare two English men that are travelling to Madrid at that moment, “with a little bit of blood, but no more”. Immediately afterwards one of the men leaves the room and another appears and tells Alatriste and Malatesta that the two heretic English men must die. This man is the inquisitor Emilio Bocanegra, and he says he doesn’t need a mask since his words are God’s will. Alatriste suspects there is nothing good behind this request, but anyway, a job is a job and this one is overly well paid to ask questions, so Alatriste accepts. But the night he and Malatesta have to kill the Englishmen, he realizes that they are not ordinary heretic English men, so he prevents Malatesta from killing his adversary and he stops fighting against his own when the poor man asks for mercy for his friend. And who is his friend? Charles Stuart, Prince of Wales, who has come to Spain to try to marry king Felipe the Fourth’s sister, Princess María Ana. Now Alatriste is really in trouble: he is involved in a conspiracy perpetrated by the Catholic Church, which doesn’t want to allow a Catholic princess to marry a heretic Englishman.
The narrator of this story is Íñigo Balboa, Alatriste’s little page. He is only thirteen, but he has learnt a lot from Alatriste and he does some really brave acts in the story, even to the point of saving the captain from a certain death. The fact that he sometimes tells us things that he hasn’t witnessed is a little bit implausible, but the way he narrates the story is one of the best things of the book. Pérez-Reverte uses an old style, trying to simulate the old Spanish language, and it makes the story absolutely gripping, so in addition to the wonderful descriptions of the characters and the fights, he makes the reader feel absolutely involved in the story. He also offers further information about characters’, armies’ and countries’ fates while he narrates their issues, so we have a global setting of what has happened and what is going to happen to Spain at that time.
Not only does the story have fictional characters; there are also a lot of real ones, which makes it really exciting. My favourite is Francisco de Quevedo, a classical Spanish writer and good friend of Alatriste that stars in very funny moments in the plot: “we have no choice but to fight,” says Quevedo to two men that have just congratulated him for some verses that were actually written by Luis de Góngora, Quevedo’s worst enemy. The entire story has also references to Velázquez paintings, and Velázquez himself appears briefly in a scene. But be careful, because not all the characters are real, even the ones who have aristocratic names, and neither did the real ones do or say what Pérez-Reverte is telling us.
I am delighted by the satirical point of view about Spanish and English people (“he could only be dim or English”). The conspiracy to kill Prince Charles is also intriguing since people from the Spanish king’s environment were involved, and the power the Catholic Church had at that time is really disturbing – they were able to prevent a royal wedding (or to burn somebody in a bonfire) arguing that it is God’s will.
Summarizing, I loved the book, from the characters and the plot to the way it is written, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
Here you can read other reviews: