The Red Sphinx

Written by Alexandre Dumas Lawrence Ellsworth (trans.)
Review by India Edghill

Richelieu without Musketeers? Inconceivable! But seriously, you won’t miss them in this labyrinthine romp through 1630s France. Cardinal Richelieu, whom we learned to hate in The Three Musketeers, becomes the leading character in The Red Sphinx, which begins shortly after Musketeers ends. Still scheming for the good of his beloved France, Richelieu’s goal is to see France as the superpower of Europe, and woe to anyone or anything standing in the way of this amiable hobby.

Red Sphinx is wonderful. It contains a huge cast of characters, most of them historical, including Father Joseph, Richelieu’s most important agent—the man who gave us the term éminence grise. Louis XIII is here, still heirless, and his queen, Anne of Austria, still pining over the English Duke of Buckingham. Here as well is Louis’s half-brother the Comte de Moret (Dumas also provides a fictional love-interest for the dashing Comte, but she’s really dull). There’s plot and counter-plot, duels, passion, murder, romance, disguises, poets and assassins. While the novel’s main plot mostly involves the French campaigns (i.e., Richelieu’s campaigns) against Piedmont and Savoy, it was hard to care much about that when so much delightful intrigue was going on, including Anne of Austria’s pathetic attempts to interest her husband in begetting an heir (Louis XIII is just about as gloomy as Eeyore).

Another plus is Ellsworth’s translation, which is readable and compelling. Unfortunately for the reader, Red Sphinx ends in the middle of a scene—and such a scene, too! I knew the novel was unfinished (at over 800 pages, yes, it’s still unfinished), but couldn’t Dumas have managed just a few more pages?