Friday, October 22, 2010
Arturo Perez-Reverte’s “Pirates of the Levant”
Then Perez-Reverte began a series about Captain Diego Alatriste and his sidekick, young Inigo Balboa (who is also writing the tales as an old man long after the events). The books are set in 17th century Spain, and they are full of swordfights and romance and palace intrigue and suspense and loads of history about the period.
Pirates of the Levant is the sixth of the Alatriste novels. And it is decidedly different from its predecessors, in that there is no overarching story that frames all of the events and actions. (In The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet, for example, the overarching story is the rivalry between Alatriste and the king of Spain for the attention of the same actress; it tells you a lot about Alatriste that he knows you don’t compete with the king of Spain but stays involved anyway.)
Instead, what Arturo-Perez does in Pirates is to draw a series of stories about Spanish ships patrolling the Mediterranean, fighting pirates and Moors. Alatriste and Balboa are aboard one such galley, and the reader experiences the seagoing life (including that of the galley slaves who man the oars) with the prodigious research the author brings to the each book. The story culminates in a sea battle that looks impossible to win, or even survive.
The point here is what constituted military life at sea during the period. Far from the court intrigues of Madrid, Alatriste and Balboa move from one battle to another, one encounter to another, punctuated by the occasional serious conflict but mostly experiencing a kind of sameness, like life upon the sea is often depicted.
Pirates of the Levant is still a good story, but it is a different kind of story than Perez-Reverte has told before. But it does have all of the richness and historical detail one expects from his fine and entertaining novels.