There is something about swashbucklers that really brings out the excited child in me. I have no idea what it is but sword fights, proper sword fights really get me onto the edge of my seat. Loving every move, every cut and parry and thrust. Like a deadly dance, it is absolutely mesmeric. As I grew older and broadened my reading horizons I found that a lot of these swashbuckling movies were based on equally swashbuckling novels. And sometimes, dare I say it; the novels were far more exciting than the movie. Never more so than in the case of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, a terrific swashbuckler that has been turned into countless film versions but very, very rarely has the on screen adaptation used much of the actual novel. The film versions are entertaining and in some cases very amusing but after reading the novel you can never see any film version as anything but a disappointment. None of the action, adventure and ‘swordfighty’ greatness is ever captured on screen with enough panache to do Dumas justice. In fact I never thought to read another swashbuckler of its ilk again.
Until Gollancz Editor Gillian Redfearn gave me part of a translation of a French novel and said it was “a bit three musketeers with dragons in it”.
At first I thought it sounded like a fun if trashy concept. Some piece of pulp fiction that’ll be entertaining while I read it and then instantly forgettable amongst the mass of other entertaining pulp fantasy out there.
Then I read the first couple of chapters.
And I absolutely LOVED IT!!!!
In a few short pages I was taken back to the world that Dumas created, Cardinal Richelieu was there right from the off, but there was a twist. He had a dragonet, a small pet dragon and as the story unfolded the dragon element was handled subtly, they were there and had importance but they didn’t overshadow the adventure and intrigue that was The Cardinal’s Blades. This wasn’t a piece of pulp; this was a terrific piece of fiction that could stand alongside Dumas’ novel with pride. In fact some would say this is the Musketeer novel that Dumas never wrote. I don’t totally agree with that, because I feel that is undermining the talent and imagination of Pierre Pevel, the author who took me back to the days of swash and buckle, because believe me, for all the action and adventure this is a proper story with swordfights. Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn eat your heart out.
And this didn’t stop with one novel; we got a second in the series which was even better. Picking up the story about a month later, The Alchemist in the Shadows is, unbelievably, an even stronger book. It has a more exciting story and the pacing is like a rocket while never feeling like it is rushing through things. There’s plenty more action, more adventure and more sword fights. The characters Pevel created in the first novel are back and better than ever, fleshed out so we come to love them even more than we already do. It’s the sort of book you want to talk to friends about as soon as you’ve finished but can’t because if they’ve not read it you’ll spoil all the fun they have waiting for them when they crack the cover and devour the pages in a few days.
The third book, The Dragon Arcana, rounds off the trilogy in superb fashion. To say more would spoil it. Everything that has gone before in the first two novels all builds to this. This is the Big, Huge climax that you want from a great series with some terrifically written action and swordfights and is nothing but totally satisfying. In fact I have to say I hate anyone out there who is yet to read this trilogy, I hate you because I envy you the opportunity to jump into this wonderful world for the first time. I think you are going to be blown away.