Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Review: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
This swashbuckling tale of derring do, gambling, drinking, getting money off your mistress because you've spent it all on the gambling and drinking, challenging people to duels, dashing to England and back, and generally being a total seventeenth-century badass is, in short, a fantastic read.

Title & Author: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Published: 1844
Pages: 720 (Penguin, 1982)
Read: 13/01/13 - 23/01/13
Series: The D'Artagnan Romances #1
Challenge(s): Project Fill in the Gaps
Status: Owned book

Synopsis: One of the most celebrated and popular historical romances ever written, The Three Musketeers tell the story of the early adventures of the young Gascon gentleman D'Artagan and his three friends from the regiment of the King's Musketeers - Athos,Porthos and Aramis.

Under the watchful eye of their patron M. de Treville, the four defend the honour of the regiment against the guards of the Cardinal Richelieu, and the honour of the queen against the machinations of the Cardinal himself as the power struggles of seventeenth-century France are vividly played out in the background. (from Goodreads)

Review: I have to admit, much of my knowledge of this book comes from the adaptations of it, especially the cartoon Dogtanian (what?  It was a favourite of mine as a kid.  And my friend who is Dumas obsessed says it's probably the most faithful adaptation she's ever watched).  So while I knew the gist of the story going in I wasn't prepared for how dark the book would get - the ending if more tragedy than comedy - or how daft the Musketeers frequently were when it came to anything involving money.  They may have been living the lives of seventeenth century heroes, but they could have at least tried to have some money set by for (picking an example purely at random) buying the equipment they'd need to go to war.  Seriously, guys, think ahead.

The plot itself will be familiar to most: D'Artagnan, a young hot-headed Gascon, travels to Paris to seek his fortune as a member of the King's Musketeers.  He finds out that he can't just wander in and become a Musketeer, and in the course of discovering this he ends up challenging three of the other Musketeers to consecutive duels.  These fights don't actually come off because the four of them are attacked by the Cardinal's guards and I thought the 1970s adaptation (with Michael Yorke as D'Artagnan) was exaggerating how many sword fights these guys get into but it is constant.  Anyone who so much as looks at them funny is challenged to a duel.  I think it's possibly this that helps them all become friends, though part of it is probably also the aforementioned inability to save money when they could be out drinking and gambling.

A vast chunk of plot was unfamiliar, however, and this is the part that makes the book so good: Milady and her machinations.  The Cardinal isn't as sinister as I was expecting, but Milady is (as the book frequently puts it) a fiend from hell.  The Musketeers may challenge those who slight them to duels; Milady simply kills anyone in her way, usually with poison or by getting someone else to do it.  She is devious and tricksy and fabulous, and there are so many awesome revelations about her that I'm just going to say you need to read the book because I am not spoiling.  The end is dark and reminded me of the darker moments of The Count of Monte Cristo - I genuinely didn't expect it to end that way, or that brutally.

The Three Musketeers is one of those books that I thought I knew, but I was still surprised by it.  Well worth reading for the swashbuckling romance alone, it's also a fantastic story that - as usual with Dumas - keeps you turning the pages so quickly that it's size feels less daunting.

Rating: 8/10

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