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Book Review: Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte

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Originally published in Spain where it sold more than a million copies, Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste has crossed the Pond and made its debut in a superlative and evocative English translation.

He was not the most honest or pious of men, but he was courageous. His name was Diego Alatriste y Tenorio, and he fought in the ranks during the Flemish wars. When I met him he was barely making ends meet in Madrid, hiring himself out for four maravedis in employ of little glory, often as a swordsman for those who had neither the skill nor the daring to settle their own quarrels. You know the sort I mean: a cuckolded husband here, outstanding gambling debts there, a petty lawsuit or questionable inheritance, and more troubles of that kind. It is easy to criticize now, but in those days the capital of all the Spains was a place where a man had to fight for life on a street corner lighted by the gleam of two blades.

So begins Arturo Perez-Reverte's stellar tale of a former soldier turned street-sword for hire in Spain's Golden Age. As an ex-soldier and blade-for-hire, Diego Alatriste y Tenorio, is hired through intermediaries to waylay and murder two English travelers to Madrid. Privately instructed by one of his paymasters to merely wound the travelers, when Alatriste, touched by their honorable conduct, allows the travelers to live, he finds himself the target of a vicious conspiracy out to destabilize the tenuous peace between Spain and England – with the Inquisition furiously pursuing Alatriste for reneging on his deadly bargain.

Captain Alatriste paints a marvelous swashbuckling historic picture of Madrid in Spain's Golden era, evoking the splendid colorful swagger of the streets with the politics and factions orbiting the Spanish courts. The book brings poetry, excitement, romance, and a smooth textual verve that must be read to be truly understood and appreciated.

The second book in the series, The Purity of Blood, is already on the shelves and a film version of Captain Alatriste is apparently now in the works, with Viggo Mortenson in the title role. My recommendation for some good summer holiday readings is to crack open Captain Alastriste and let the smooth, heady prose of Arturo Perez-Reverte work its magic. You will not be disappointed.

For an excerpt from the book, check out Arturo Perez-Reverte's own site. You can pick up some Spanish rapiers online, take a virtual walk through the Golden Age of Spain, or read up about the era at the ever-dependable Wikipedia.

Check out Cerventes or dive into his work at the Cervantes Project. Interested in visiting Madrid? Check out Mad About Madrid for a fascinating look at the city that includes an Alatriste tour of the city.

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