Monday, January 16, 2006

Purity of Blood by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Reviews of Arturo Perez-Reverte's Purity of Blood.
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In Arturo Perez-Reverte’s captivating stories, the world of Alexandre Dumas’s musketeers is ingeniously transposed to 1620s Madrid. Inigo Balboa, their narrator, recalls his experiences at that time as the page and protégé of Captain Alatriste, a taciturn swordsman for hire. The Spain of Inigo’s youth is a superpower enjoying a cultural golden age, with the painter Velazquez, the playwright de Vega and the poet-politician Quevedo (a recurring character in the series) all working in a city that is "the capital of two worlds, old and new". But he looks back on this era from a time of decline: the setting of "a sun that for two centuries had inspired fear and respect throughout the world".

You can find the review here

The furtive figure slips quietly into the darkened house, dressed in mufti rather than in his usual swirling cape. He is armed lightly, with only oiled flintlock, sword and dagger. As he slips toward the bed of his sleeping prey, his aquiline profile and luxuriant mustache are visible by the shadowy light of an oil lamp. Holding a knife to the chin of his latest conquest, he asks: "Do you know who I am?"

You bet we do. He is Capt. Diego Alatriste y Tenorio, the brooding, charismatic hero of Arturo Pérez-Reverte's wildly successful Spanish swashbuckling novels. He is profoundly cynical yet quietly principled, weary of battle yet ready to duel if he must. He is a man of few words but many melancholy gazes into the void. He has pale, steely eyes and a face that, when glacially calm, delivers "fair notice that it is advisable to take three steps back." This cool, taciturn 17th-century dreamboat will be played by Viggo Mortensen in a large-scale screen adaptation later this year.

You can find the full review here

Many historical novels are fluff: costume potboilers like ''The Dante Club." Some manage to be serious fiction that conveys something of the reality of life in another time and place, like Paul Scott's ''The Jewel in the Crown." ''Purity of Blood" is somewhere in between: It's vastly superior to the majority of what passes for historical fiction but doesn't approach the heights of the genre. It's great fun in the tradition of historical swashbucklers such as ''Three Musketeers" or ''The Scarlet Pimpernel," and yet it's not all sword fights and breakneck horseback rides. There's a sadness that gives the novel some depth: the sadness of Diego Alatriste. He spent his youth doing all the right things: He was brave, he served his king, and he was loyal to his comrades in arms. All he has to show for it is a rented room, a lot of old scars, and a line of work likely to kill him.

Pérez-Reverte made his name in the '90s with international bestsellers such as ''The Flanders Panel" (a hyperliterate murder mystery about art history and chess) and ''The Club Dumas" (a supernatural thriller about the antiquarian book trade). His detour into historical fiction became available to American readers last year with ''Captain Alatriste," which introduces Diego and Iñigo.

You can find the review here

The first of the novels, Captain Alatriste, was published in the United States last spring, after taking Europe by storm. It has been made into a movie starring Viggo Mortensen that might not make it to cineplexes: It's in Spanish.
Poor Alatriste, living in a corrupt and overripe Madrid caught between the failure of the Armada and the nightmare of the Inquisition. The gallant captain was wounded in the Thirty Years' War - I don't know what that was about, but never mind. He has no money to show for his courage and no trade except fighting, plus he drinks a lot and is generally melancholy in a heroic fashion.
Also, he has a lot of derring-do. Which he sorely needs in the series' second entry, Purity of Blood, after a friend gets him the job of breaking into a depraved convent and restoring a virtuous novice to her family.
Of course this doesn't go as planned, no thanks to Alatriste's teenage sidekick, Inigo. Let's see, how does it go? Keep your friends close, your enemies closer and your sidekicks at home where they belong.
Though thrilling in places, the Alatriste stories are not meant to be raced through. This is the culture that perfected the art of strolling. The men of Madrid saunter, they swagger, they pause to compose or recite a few lines of verse, then they resume strolling right up to the moment they draw their swords, forged of the finest Toledo steel, and slash away at each other.
Pérez-Reverte has obligingly already written the next three books, so all we have to do is persuade Putnam to release them as quickly as possible.

You can find the review here

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