George V. Reilly

Review: Purity of Blood

Purity of Blood
Title: Purity of Blood
Author: Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Publisher: Plume
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 267
Keywords: historical fiction
Reading period: 30-31 March, 2007

Nobody expects the Spanish In­qui­si­tion!

Monty Python

They certainly do in the Madrid of 1623. The Spanish Empire is at its peak, ruling much of the Americas as well as the Low Countries. The Spanish In­qui­si­tion functions as an ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal secret police, defending the Faith against heretic­s—and Jews—and ensuring orthodoxy by keeping an iron grip on the hearts and minds of the Spanish people.

This book is the second in a series of novels about Captain Alatriste, a sword-for-hire. The novels are related in flashback by Íñigo, a 13-year-old at the time of this novel, but much older when he’s finally telling the story. The novels have been adapted into a movie, Alatriste, not yet released in the U.S.

Pérez-Reverte is playing homage to the d’Artagnan Romances of Alexandre Dumas. It is a time of fiercely guarded honor, where men take offense at the merest slight. Alatriste, a 20-year veteran of the Flanders wars, is world-weary and far less idealistic and chivalrous than the young d’Artagnan of The Three Musketeers.

Alatriste is enlisted to rescue a novice from a corrupt convent, where well-connected priests are sexually abusing the nuns. She comes from a family of conversos or New Christians, Jews who have converted to Catholi­cism. The rescue is betrayed: Alatriste escapes, but Íñigo is captured and sent to the Spanish In­qui­si­tion.

Pérez-Reverte brings to life sev­en­teenth-century Spain, against a backdrop of intrigue and swash­buck­ling action. He both glorifies and criticizes Spain, fore­shad­ow­ing the long decline of her fortunes. He is deservedly harsh on the In­qui­si­tion, as he details Íñigo’s suffering at their hands and the burning of heretics at an auto-da-fé.

Alatriste, who had grown isolated and alone, is forced to admit that Íñigo has found a chink in his armor, as he struggles to save his young protegé.

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