I enjoyed Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas, so I picked up Captain Alatriste, which seems to be the beginning of a series. Alatriste is a 17th century Spanish swordsman who gets himself into trouble. He is also guardian to the narrator, who was 13 years old at the time of the action.
So. The constable, an old friendly acquaintance, gives Alatriste a tip on a job assignment. It involves staging a robbery of two English travelers and scaring, but not hurting them. Immediately after accepting the assignment, Alatriste is confronted by Big Church Inquisition guy, who pays him more and says he wants the two travelers dead.
In the middle of the big ambush, something makes Alatriste abort the mission and get the Englishmen to a safe place. So now he is in trouble with the Inquisition.
The Inquisition scares me.
From the narrator, who is writing many years after the fact, we know that Alatriste survives this adventure. But that didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be some kind of torture involved, which is not what I want to see in my adventure stories. I stuck with it.
While there are moments of action, I felt that the book was more of a set up for a series. Character development was good. Supporting characters were introduced. The character of Spain itself was explained. Ooh, wait. Tangent.
When I was in Spain several years ago (I might have made the observation in Portugal, but that is beside the point), I was marveling to my dad about how odd I found the country’s sense of history. My cowboy-American perception is that the country acknowledged that its glory days were four centuries in the past. And the country was fine with that. I was reminded of that by a line in the book:
“She may still have been powerful and feared by other nations, but she was touched with death in her soul.”
Can you see an American saying that America was touched with death in her soul?
Anyway. The book was a lot of set up. The narrator’s first infatuation, an eleven year old girl we know is doomed to screw him up his whole life through. The Italian, who was a partner in the aborted mission – now a lifelong enemy of Alatriste. And let’s not forget the old Gang at the Tavern.
It was all good fun and good writing, but the end was rather anti-climactic. To go comic book speak, it must be an “origin piece”. I could probably give the sequel a go.