Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Captain Alatriste

Captain Alatriste is poised to become fiction's hottest international swashbuckler since the Scarlet Pimpernel. Already a cult hero in Spain, Alatriste is the star of five novels by former journalist Arturo Pérez-Reverte that have sold more than 4 million copies in 50 countries since the first volume appeared a decade ago. That book, Captain Alatriste, was finally published in English last year, and the second, Purity of Blood, came out in January. The captain has his own website, comic strip, board games and, in Madrid, guided tours of his fictional haunts. Alatriste, a feature film based largely on the first book and starring Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings), will open in Europe and the U.S. later this year. With a $28 million budget, it's the most expensive Spanish-language film ever made in Spain.

The protagonist of this franchise is perhaps the least dashing, most enigmatic hero ever to rattle a rapier. Alatriste speaks little, drinks alone, dresses badly and blunders into traps set by more cunning adversaries. But he is fearless, deadly with a blade and, beneath his armored persona, stubbornly loyal. Those qualities animate the newly translated Purity of Blood. Alatriste is hired to help an aging father free his daughter, a nun, from the clutches of a well-connected priest who is using the convent as his private seraglio. The old man and his family have a secret: as Christian descendants of a converted Jew in anti-Semitic times, they lack "purity of blood" and soon become targets of the Inquisition. Alatriste too comes under suspicion, and the blood, pure and otherwise, begins to flow.

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