Mud and Honor: Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Sun Over Breda.
After that rather unimpressive Eberron book, I decided to get back into the swing of things with some quality, Real People Literature. Which brings us to Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Sun Over Breda. Not only is there a lack of dragons and rockets on the cover, but it’s also literature in translation, so that’s how you know it’s classy!
The Sun Over Breda is the third in Arturo Perez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste series. They’re swashbuckly, historical adventures, centered around the titular Diego Alatriste y Tenorio, a grim swordsman and mercenary in 17th century Spain. The series is narrated by Alatriste’s page/ward/sidekick, Inigo Balboa y Aguirre. Together, they get swept up into various adventures that take them across Europe. It’s a really fun series, full of intrigues, swordfights, and swashed buckles. It’s very historical, and very Spanish, in that Alatriste and Inigo are constantly reading Cervantes, or hanging out with famed poet Francisco de Quevedo, or seeing plays by Lope, and so on. Perez-Reverte specifically created the series to highlight Spanish history, so the books are even kind of educational. Neat!
On top of that, Perez-Reverte’s prose is absolutely delicious, even in translation. I didn’t see a translator listed on the credit/copyright page, which really is a damn shame, as they did a bang-up job with the book.
The Alatriste novels are so popular that they were even made into a movie, which was the second most expensive Spanish film ever made. It’s well worth watching, though somewhat hard to find (it hasn’t had a proper DVD release in the US, as far as I’m aware). Someone had put the movie on youtube awhile back, so if you’re curious and you have some free time, it’s well worth checking out. It’s even got Viggo Mortensen in the titular role, which is all kinds of fun.
Amusingly, the events within The Sun over Breda‘s 260 pages are covered in maybe twenty minutes of the Alatriste film. This isn’t because The Sun Over Breda is a slow, thoughtful novel; rather, it’s because The Sun Over Breda isn’t quite as connected to the rest of the series as a whole.
While most of the other Alatriste novels take place in Spain, The Sun Over Breda is set in Flanders, during the 30 Years’ War, which was kind of an offshoot of the 80 Years’ War, which makes me wish Historians were a little more creative when it came to naming things. Captain Alatriste and Inigo have signed on with the Spanish army once again, and The Sun Over Breda details the various battles, duels, sieges, and mutinies they’re involved in. The novel is pretty episodic- Alatriste and Inigo are just rank and file troopers, so they’re just sent from one mission to another without much of an overarching plot. In the hands of a lesser author, this could lead to a boring and aimless novel, but Perez-Reverte’s prose makes it well worth the read.
I first read The Sun Over Breda a couple of years ago. I picked it up again because I saw a copy for all of a dollar at a Half Price books, and here we are. To be honest, I didn’t take away much on this second reading that I didn’t get the first time. The book is rather episodic, and there’s a definite grim undercurrent of “we were cold and hungry and miserable and outnumbered, and we knew we were going to die- but we were Spanish Hidalgos.” And while Inigo and Alatriste take solace in their Spanish honor, the book doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to war, showing it to be a terrible and senseless thing, full of odd little ironies, such as soldiers having better disicpline when they’re mutinying, for example.
So, while The Sun Over Breda might not be the best Alatriste novel, or even the best jumping-on point for someone new to the series, it’s still a wonderful read, and one that I’d recommend to anyone in the mood for a historical adventure. I’d just suggest reading the first two books beforehand.