Heaving bosoms and hyperbolic derring-do abound in this sixth volume of the acclaimed Spanish author’s series of period swashbucklers (The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet, 2009, etc.).
It’s announced as “the final installment” in the saga of freelance soldier of fortune Captain Alatriste and his page turned foster son and companion Íñigo Balboa (imagine Sancho Panza in flaming youth, eager to emulate his master Don Quixote’s glamorous and amorous exploits). Final installment? Well, we all know what happened the first time Conan Doyle tried to off Sherlock Holmes, don’t we? Be that as it may, Pérez-Reverte treats us to another rousing adventure firmly in the tradition of modern romancer Rafael Sabatini channeling the immortal Alexandre Dumas. Once again, Íñigo narrates, in old age, remembering. The story records their deeds as mercenary soldiers aboard a Spanish galleon on a perilous mission that will culminate in a savage battle at sea, traveling from Naples through the eastern Mediterranean to Morocco and Algeria, thence Venice, and eventually Malta. Alatriste attempts to rescue an old friend; Íñigo, itching to attain full maturity (he has survived to the age of 17), writhes in the coils of his infatuation with beautiful Angélica, the niece of Alatriste’s old enemy—and either a paragon of burgeoning womanhood or a homicidal vixen leading the impulsive Íñigo to his doom. The action feels a bit generic, but the nicely timed introductions of savory and unsavory supporting characters keeps the reader hooked. (Pérez-Reverte even invents his own Gunga Din—resourceful Moorish manservant Gurriat.) The mix is further enriched by an autumnal sense of the waste and folly—and inevitability—of men’s compulsion to go to war.
First-rate entertainment, from one of the masters.