Friday, August 16, 2013

The Three Musketeers

The Three MusketeersThe Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The fearless d'Artagnan befriends three noble Musketeers and together, all for one and one for all, they oppose Cardinal Richelieu and his deadliest spy, the seductive Milady de Winter.

The Musketeers are the most glamorous and dangerous regiment of the King's army, so naturally nineteen-year-old d'Artagnan's lifelong ambition has been to join their ranks. But on his first day in Paris, the awkward young Gascon manages to annoy three of the most prominent Musketeers: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. In spite of their unpromising beginning, the four men become close friends and together help subvert Cardinal Richelieu's jealous plots against the French queen.

The three Musketeers each have their own secrets and ambitions, humorously shown when the men are separated after a dangerous mission. Aramis is a beautiful fop whose interest in the church waxes and wanes with his mistress's faithfulness; Porthos is an epicure whose dearest ambition is to own a gilded coach; and Athos is a brooding nobleman with a mysterious past.

Our dashing heroes take advantage of rich women and adore violence. The perpetually penniless gallants gamble, drink, and preen because they are magnificent Musketeers - always ready to die for king, honor, or love. Actually, there isn't much they wouldn't throw their lives away on as long as it looks amusingly dangerous. There's a particularly effective scene where they have a picnic under enemy fire just to find a private place to talk.

Their greatest enemy is as deadly and effective, but more subtle about it: she is Milady de Winter, with an angel's face and a devil's heart. We get plenty of scenes of Milady using her wit and beauty to subdue weaker minds (and let's face it, everyone has a weaker mind than this ultimate femme fatale, with the possible exception of Richelieu). She's a spy with an endless thirst for revenge, and a special hatred of d'Artagnan. She's by far the most chilling and resourceful villain I've come across in a long time.

There is plenty of historical detail in this novel, since Dumas uses real people and events in French history (he wrote it in 1844, but the action occurs around 1628). For example, the infamous Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers, was a real person - though Dumas neglects to mention that Buckingham was King James I's lover as well as the lover of the French Queen, Ann of Austria. For the full gossip, read The Queen's Diamonds by historian Roger MacDonald.
Historical hottie, George Villiers
You can't do much better for swashbuckling action and tales of revenge than the prolific Dumas, so pick up my other favorite book by him, The Count of Monte Cristo, next. (There are lesser-known sequels to The Three Musketeers, too: the series is known as the d'Artagnan Romances and includes The Man in the Iron Mask.) For action of another sort, but with treacherous villains that might have given Milady a run for her money, read Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.

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