Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
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.