The Book: Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte
The Challenge: A translated book
I blame my parents for my love of swashbuckling adventure stories: they introduced me to the Errol Flynn movies when I was younger, and I've been hooked ever since. As almost all of the books in the genre that I have read were written by English writers (with a few Americans and Frenchmen thrown in), the Spanish were generally the villains. I was intrigued, therefore, to find this book, as it was written by a Spaniard. I was further interested in reading it when the author was recommended by one of the book groups in All Roads Lead to Austen.
Captain Alatriste is about a soldier of fortune living in 17th Century Madrid. The story is narrated by one Inigo Balboa, a young Basque man who is sent to live with Alatriste as his squire. All the elements of a good swashbuckling story are there: political intrigue, battles of wit, sword fights, swaggering braggarts, and warrior poets. In this particular book, Alatriste is hired to scare two travelers, but is pulled into a web of court intrigue when he instead saves them from an assassin.
As the Austen book group stated, Perez-Reverte has a writing style that (at least in translation) is often poetic and yet fast paced. The world of 17th Century Madrid is brilliantly painted, with a cast of characters that are colorful, realistic, and enjoyable. It is, in a sense, like reading a Spanish version of The Three Musketeers (and, indeed, the Captain Alatriste books occasionally bear the subtitle "The Spanish Musketeer").
There is one warning I would give a potential reader of this book: it is the first in a series and reads as such. That is, much of the book is spent introducing characters and hinting at future events that are the subject of the other books in the series.