Purity of Blood

Written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Review by James Hawking

Diego Alatriste survives in the Spain of 1623 by taking commissions as a sword for hire while maintaining a firm sense of honor. This is the second of the series to appear in English, all featuring clashes of swords, daggers when at close quarters, and pistols when there is time to light the wick. Between fights, we have wonderful tableaux like the Prado Gardens, where women sell jars of fruit, lovers carry out assignations, and dandies display the wealth of the Empire. Another scene takes us to the enthusiastic crowd at an auto-da-fé on the Plaza Mayor.

The narrator, Iñigo Balboa, thirteen at the time of the action, looks back from the perspective of an old man, complaining that his country has been going steadily downhill. After being involved in a raid on a convent, young Iñigo falls into the hands of the Spanish Inquisition, incriminated by the woman he loves, the impossibly beautiful and consistently treacherous Angélica de Alqézar. Even as an old man, he continues to love her even though he knows that she is in hell “where she is surely a bright flame today.”

The translation by Margaret Sayers Peden preserves the flavor of the original by leaving some period words untranslated but glossed so that the reader understands them. A word like rúa is explained as a stylized social parade. Poems and pieces of poems appear frequently, a challenge that Peden meets with faithful verse translations that read well, often of works by Francisco de Quevedo, who appears as a friend of the captain. At least three more of these novels have appeared in Spanish, and all are scheduled to be translated eventually. The series is superb already and getting better.