Las Aventuras del Capitán Alatriste - Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Marirosa Mia: Once again the lovely Salome has joined us with another awesome recommendation. Check it out!
Salome: Spanish bestselling author Arturo Pérez-Reverte recently released El puente de los asesinos (The Assassin’s Bridge), the seventh installment of his extraordinary swashbuckling series, Las Aventuras del Capitán Alatriste (The Adventures of Captain Alatriste). So I wanted to celebrate the occasion by taking a look at the first three books in the series, all of which delight older kids and adults, as well as fiction and non-fiction readers.
The series, which the author started publishing in 1996 in reaction to what he felt was a poor Spanish history curriculum at his daughter’s school, gives us a thorough look at Spain’s Golden Age or “Siglo de Oro.”
While the books focus on Captain Alatriste’s heroics as a soldier, occasional sword-for-hire, and all-around international man of mystery starting in the 1620s, they are written from the point of view and in the voice of Iñigo Balboa, the teenage son of an old comrade of Alatriste’s, who has become his assistant and mentee.
Besides partaking in Alatriste’s dizzying adventures, Iñigo gets to brush shoulders with the intelligentsia of his times – Velázquez and Quevedo among them – in what sometimes feels like an exercise in six degrees of separation (well, more like two degrees) in 17th-century Madrid.
The first book, which lends its name to the series, introduces the reader to a dark world of cross-border intrigue and murder, as well as the peculiarities of the Spanish Royal Court. (This book was made into a Spanish movie by the same name, starring Hugo Mortensen, who is probably much better looking than Alatriste was ever meant to be.) The second book, Limpieza de sangre (Purity of Blood), delves into the harsh and tragic history of the Spanish Inquisition, focusing on the plight of a Jewish family. The third book, El sol de Breda (The Sun over Breda) finds Alatriste and Iñigo in The Netherlands, where they are fighting Dutch rebels during the long and brutal Spanish occupation.
Yes, they are not rosy topics, but Pérez-Reverte makes them entertaining and engaging, interspersing them with humor and even adolescent love. I found the first two books easier to read and more exciting than the third one, which I felt was a bit slow. But I suspect that had to do less with the book and more with my disinclination to read about wars. It is worth a read, though, given Pérez-Reverte’s background as a war correspondent, which makes him a master chronicler of military conflicts.
A note of warning: The books are better suited for native speakers or fluent readers since they are written in a rather formal Spanish from Spain, in what is probably an effort to convey a more complete flavor of the place and times. I should also warn that, while elegantly presented, there are a few off color situations here and there in the books. Well, you can’t really expect a swashbuckling swordsman to act like a saint!