November 8th, 2008

The Librarian

"The King's Gold"

Nor can I forget Captain Alatriste as I saw him in the early hours of that morning when pain kept me from sleep. He was sitting on a stool, apart from everyone else, his back against the wall, watching the grey dawn creep in through the window, while he drank his wine slowly and methodically, as I had so often seen him do before, until his eyes became like opaque glass and his head sank slowly onto his chest, and sleep -- a lethargy not unlike death -- overwhelmed both body and mind. And I had shared his life for long enough to know that, even in his dreams, Diego Alatriste would continue to move through the personal wilderness that was his life, silent, solitary, and selfish, oblivious of everything except the clear-sighted indifference of one who knows the narrow line that separates being alive from being dead, of one who kills in order to preserve his life's breath and to keep himself, too, in hot meals. One who is reluctant to obey the rules of that strange game: the old ritual in which men like him have been immersed since the world began. Such things as hatred, passionate beliefs, and flags had nothing to do with it. It would doubtless have been more bearable if, instead of the bitter clarity that filled his every act and thought, Captain Alatriste had enjoyed the magnificent gifts of stupidity, fanaticism, or malice, because only the stupid, the fanatical, and the malicious live lives free from ghosts or from remorse.

Yes, I've finally got 'round to reading, and have finished, the Arturo Pérez-Reverte's fourth Captain Alatriste novel, The King's Gold. Like the previous three titles in the series (Captain Alatriste, Purity of Blood, and The Sun Over Breda), it's a marvelous tale to read ... this time the good Captain has been commissioned to hijack a shipment of smuggled gold from a ship of the newly returned Plate Fleet on behalf of the King himself (a perfectly reasonable request ... he only wants back what was stolen in the first place). Along the way, old enemies and friends are re-encountered: Angélica de Alquézar, lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and Malatesta, the lethal Italian sword-for-hire, are both just as deadly as ever and up to their eyebrows in the plot, as are the Conde de Guadalmedina and the poet Quevedo, currently back in favour at Court.

Very little of narrator Íñigo's philosophizings in this particular volume, but for once we get to experience Alatriste himself from the inside ... to feel what he feels and see what he sees. The read is treated to some most intriguing tidbits of insight into this deep and dark character.

And of course there is swordplay ... such magnificent swordplay, lovingly described. Plus a cast of villains, ruffians, accountants, and the usual fun of learning familiar history from the Spanish side.

In other words, this fourth volume is just as good a read as its previous companions! ☺☺☺☺☺