Monday, June 28, 2010

The Cardinal's Blades by Pierre Pevel

I'm so glad to see that this book will be released in the U.S. this October. I ordered my hardback copy from England at great expense, but it was worth every penny.

The book is set in seventeenth century Paris, which is a hotbed of intrigue and deception and dashing musketeers. Necessity has caused Cardinal Richelieu to recall the group of elite spies known as the Cardinal's Blades, disbanded five years ago after a disastrous turn of events that left one of their number dead and another exposed as a traitor. Captain La Fargue is reluctant to accept the reinstatement; the memories of the betrayal by one of his closest friends still hurts him, and he doesn't entirely trust the cardinal, either.

After reading the first 50 pages, I knew I was in the hands of a master. I also had no earthly idea what was going on in the book, but that was okay, because Pevel obviously knew what he was doing. There are so many schemes and intrigues, so many spies and hired thugs and turncoats, so many plots and subplots and counterplots, that a lesser author would have gotten bogged down halfway through and resorted to a lame bunch of coincidences to sort everything out. Pevel never gets bogged down, and the story progresses inexorably to a brilliant climax. I was left guessing and surprised right down to the very last sentence.

There are a lot of characters, all with French names, which I found difficult to remember. I almost made a list to keep track--I hope the North American release has a cast of characters in the front; it would really help. But the characters are so strongly drawn and memorable that I rarely had trouble figuring out who was meant, even if I couldn't place the name right away.

This is a swashbuckling adventure, full of action and violence. It's not easy to describe a swordfight without getting mired in detail that slows the pace, but Pevel is a master of writing action. The fights never went on too long, but they were always exciting.

I read one review a few months ago that mentioned the sexism in the book. I didn't see it at all. One of the blades is a woman, Agnes, who is one of the most important characters in the book's climax; all the other female characters are similarly strong and fully realized.

Since so many characters aren't what they seem, it's hard to know who's the bad guy and who's the good guy. I loved that. I found myself mentally booing a character one paragraph and then pulling for him or her the next. In a less perfectly executed book, I'd be annoyed at the uncertainty. Here it works so well I can't imagine it being any other way.

A big shout-out to Pevel's translator, Tom Clegg, who kept the flavor of the French language while doing a great job making everything clear. That can't be an easy job, especially not with a book like this one.

I hope there's a sequel.

B&N preorder link

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