No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Set in 14th-century Catalonia, Barcelona attorney Falcones’s sprawling medieval family saga, a bestseller in Spain, starts with a nasty little bit of prima nocta, which, come to think of it, got another bestselling medieval epic, Braveheart, rolling. The dastardly lord Llorenc de Bellera comes calling on good Bernat Estanyol on his wedding night and declares, in lawyerly lingo, “ ‘In accordance with one of my rights as your lord, I have decided to lie with your wife on her first night of marriage.’ ” Not a friendly thing to do, as the lovely Francesca discovers, but not the last unfriendly act on Llorenc’s part, as Bernat’s sturdy son Arnau discovers. Arnau has bigger fish to fry before arranging to avenge the family honor: First he has to go fight against the assembled enemies of Catalonia, then take care of some trouble with his brother, who, the bloodlines being all confused by now, has taken to behaving like Llorenc, but this time in priestly habit. Despite his misfortunes, Bernat remains a good-natured man—he dares, for instance, to smile at a Jew. Arnau inherits the sense of equitability and fair play, though Falcones can’t help observing that Arnau’s Jewish pal has “a piercing gaze and hook nose,” certainly not the best traits in an inquisitorial age. Brother Joan, for his part, finds that there’s good work to be had in being an inquisitor, heading north to do his thing, since “most of the doctrines that the Catholic church considered heretical came through Catalonia from France.” Much snarling and mustache-twisting and muttering in Latin and sword-crossing ensues; stones are lifted, a cathedral is built, heretics are burned, all business as usual in such climes.
Less learned than the work of compatriot Arturo Pérez-Reverte, but more intelligent than the average beach book.