Posted on Wednesday, August 15th, 2007 at 1:25 pm under Fiction, Works in Translation

Why I liked this book: One of the reasons that I loved His Majesty’s Dragon was that it felt like it captured a mood, a tone, and a character very effectively — it was a moment in time, on the page. Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte makes me wish I knew more about seventeenth century Spain, because the cultural references to that moment in time, in history, and in the world are fierce and omnipresent, and settle this book all the more firmly in its mood and tone.

Honestly, though, there are worse ways to remind myself of European history than to read a lovingly translated work of historical fiction that calls back to an earlier era — the Golden Century of Spain — while telling the story of the thoroughly disreputable but equally thoroughly honorable Captain Diego Alatriste. Alatriste’s squire, Inigo Balboa, recounts his master’s exploits, and regales the reader with his star-struck recollections of meeting Lope de Vega at the opening of one of his plays, listening to Francisco de Quevedo spout drunken poetry, and learning a plethora of respectable (and not-so-respectable) skills from the many unemployed soldiers frequenting the same haunts as his Captain.

His respectable but not-so-respectable Captain is at the heart of the story — a brave man, struggling to find a place in war-weary Madrid, weaving through the politics and laws and custom and tradition of his society as he goes. That weaving of the adventurer’s tale, politics through the eyes of the common man, and Spanish history and culture into one cohesive tale is what makes this book so remarkable, and so very, very readable. Inigo is a wry, adoring, and honest narrator, telling the story of a swashbuckling hero in a cape that needs mending, in a time that glows with culture, art, and weighty history, and he narrates a story well worth reading.

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