I’d like to introduce you to Captain Alatriste: former soldier, swordsman for hire and general swashbuckler of the highest order. You may only just have met him, but I guarantee it won’t be long before you’re in thrall to his reckless spirit, slightly rugged yet indisputably good looks and his penchant for getting involved in all sorts of questionable skulduggery. His moral compass may occasionally veer towards the skewwhiff, but you can rest assured it will right itself in the end. He’s the best thing to happen to sword fighting since d’Artagnan and I would love you to fall for his charms just like I did.
Captain Alatriste is the eponymous hero of a series of books by one of my favourite authors, Arturo Pérez-Reverte. If you love The Three Musketeers, as I do, then you’ll lap up these tales of despicable villains and derring-do set in seventeenth century Spain. They read like an old-fashioned adventure story, and yet they still feel fresh and exciting. There’s something about the moustachioed swordsman, cloak on his back and flamboyant feather in his hat, which still holds an enormous appeal, one that hasn’t diminished since Porthos, Athos and Aramis declared themselves to be one for all and all for one over a hundred years ago. The Captain has a certain world-weariness about him to be sure – after all, he’s a soldier whose years in combat have exposed him to the worst of human nature as well as the best – but his stories are told through the eyes of his protégé, Iñigo, whose youthful naivety and rash enthusiasm mirror our own sense of excitement at the adventures that unfold. As the books progress, Iñigo matures, and in doing so becomes more aware of the emotional fatigue lurking behind his master’s heroic exterior. Yet that is precisely what makes Captain Alatriste such a compelling character; he may despair of the corruption, duplicity and betrayal that pervade the world of men, but you never quite believe that he will turn his back on justice and hang up his sword for good. After all, he is a hero, and the reader has absolute faith that he will stay that way.
So if you’re feeling like you could use a knight in shining armour in your life – or you’re simply in the mood for some action-packed escapism – track down one of these novels and make the acquaintance of one of the most magnetic characters you’ll ever meet.