The Sun Over Breda

Written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Review by Alan Fisk Juliet Waldron

This is the third in the adventures of Captain Alatriste in 17th century Spain, following Captain Alatriste and Purity of Blood. In 1625, Captain Alatriste has rejoined the army and left the dangerous streets of Madrid for the war in Flanders. He is accompanied by the young Íñigo Balboa, who narrates the novels. The Captain Alatriste series is the kind of adventure that Alexandre Dumas and Rafael Sabatini used to write, and it delivers. The battle scenes are appallingly vivid, as is the exposition of how Captain Alatriste and his close companions fight on from duty and loyalty.

Íñigo Balboa also relates the scenes in which Alatriste is on his own, trusting the reader to infer that Alatriste would have told Íñigo about them at some unspecified later time. Alatriste and Íñigo are kept informed of events back in Madrid by letters from Alatriste’s friend the poet Quevedo, and from the beautiful Angélica de Alquézar. Íñigo has a lifelong passion for Angélica, while also deeply hating and fearing her, for good reasons.

As in the two previous novels, Pérez-Reverte gives the reader a bonus in the form of poems, extracts from a play, and a lengthy editor’s note. If this evokes memories of Flashman, be assured that the Alatriste novels have a much darker tone, with no trace of humour. If you want to try the Alatriste series, and you should, you might be better off reading at least one of the two previous novels first, but The Sun Over Breda can stand by itself, and will introduce you to a world where heroes are heroes, and honour is defended by immediate recourse to sword and dagger.

– Alan Fisk

Arturo Pérez-Reverte is a bestseller in the Spanish speaking world. His books, among them The Club Dumas, The Fencing Master, Queen of the South and The Flanders Panel, have been translated into twenty-nine languages. His creation, Captain Alatriste, is a cultural icon, and The Sun Over Breda is the third part of the captain’s continuing story.

It is set during the counter-reformation, as Spain attempts to maintain control over an empire that is full of heretics and brimming with nationalist fervor. Their bloodiest struggle during the early part of the 17th century was with the Dutch, and this novel concerns one of the many Flemish campaigns waged by Spain, in particular the siege of Breda. Alatriste, a canny professional soldier, is accompanied, as always, by Íñigo Balboa, who also functions as the narrator for the stories. (This is just as well, as Alatriste is a man of action and few words.) Fifteen now, Íñigo has become a mochilero. His job is to carry ammunition for Alatriste’s harquebus, as well as water and spare gear. With others like him, he scours the war-torn countryside for supplies. Although he is unpaid—and his master isn’t paid often—Íñigo is put in harm’s way as often as any regular. His dagger is frequently put to use.

In short, think of the Sharpe series, but add a literary dimension, with quotations from Spanish poets and the elegant circumlocutions of period language. As expected with a writer of this caliber, the characterizations are complex, and each scene is as exquisitely detailed as any Velásquez. If, like me, you only know Spanish history from an English speaker’s perspective, Pérez-Reverte will be happy to escort you toward a deeper understanding of an old enemy. Recommended, but do begin with the first of the series, Captain Alatriste.

– Juliet Waldron