Saturday, March 03, 2007

Captain Alatriste, Final

By Arturo Perez-Reverte
pgs. 71-End

If a series’ first novel is meant to both satisfy and inspire curiosity within its readers, then Captain Alatriste fulfills its duty well. While I was satisfied with the novel’s conclusion, Mr. Perez-Reverte leaves just enough loose ends hanging so that my next order of business, as soon as I get the money to do it, is to buy Purity of Blood.

After finishing the book late last night, I lay back with the lights off and fell asleep in awe of Perez-Reverte’s artistry. This wasn’t due to any admiration on my behalf of his writing, though it deserves that too since the beauty of Perez-Reverte’s sentences lies in the simplicity of his words and the unadorned way he has of shaping a story. No, my admiration lay in the question that had nagged me since I turned the last page: How is that, in Captain Alatriste everything is resolved and yet…nothing is resolved?

I risk giving away too much of the story here, so I shall tread carefully. Captain Alatriste, who finds himself in a bit of trouble after saving the life of a very important person – a person whom he was hired to kill – gains more than a few enemies, who try to kill him several times. At the novel’s conclusion, Captain Alatriste manages to escape torture and death by the a very thin hair, but his adversaries remain at large and still strongly desire to put a few “sword-tailored buttonholes in his body.” At the novel’s conclusion, the only things Captain Alatriste has for defense is a small letter of protection and his Toledo steel.

But Captain Alatriste is about so much more than shady characters and sharp swords. It’s about seventeenth-century Spain. Spain makes so many descriptive appearances in the story that she becomes more of a character, rather than simply a setting. Coffers filled to over-flowing with gold from the New World, Spain is decadent, Spain is dying, Spain is “in the midst of all that corruption and madness, moving against the course of history, like a beautiful, terrifying animal that still slashed and clawed yet at the heart was eaten by a malignant tumor.”

Indeed, Captain Alatriste seems to be not only an action-adventure but also a tribute to the golden age of Spain when she was at the height of her beauty and power. It’s clear that the author loves his country as much as his narrator. In the hands of Arturo Perez-Reverte, seventeenth century Spain seems as real today as it did four hundred years ago. And, though she may be filled with characters willing to “put hand to sword, or to knife another being, merely to get into a theater performance”, Perez-Reverte's Spain is a country I plan to revisit as soon as I get some cash in my pocket and manage to carry my butt to the nearest bookstore.

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