Malcolm Tattersall

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Madrid, 1625: Francisco G—mez de Quevedo y Villegas, poet and courtier, approaches Alatriste, old soldier turned swordsman-for-hire, for help in rescuing a friend's teenage daughter from a convent where corrupt priests are abusing the young women. The enterprise will be perilous because it will be seen as an attack on the all-powerful church but Alatriste agrees to take part.

The rescue attempt fails, and the girl and one of her would-be rescuers are seized by the Inquisition. Plots, ambushes, burglary and sword-fights follow as Alatriste and Quevedo attempt to free them. The climax is a vividly described auto-da-fe, the very public 'act of faith' in which heretics confessed their sins and were burnt at the stake.

Perez-Reverte is a leading Spanish writer whose fascination with the glory years of his country has been apparent in most of his novels since The Flanders Panel a decade ago. His background here illuminates the machinations of power-hungry noblemen in the court of King Philip and the persecution of Jews by the Inquisition.

Purity of Blood is the second in a series which began with Captain Alatriste last year. The narrator is again Alatriste's thirteen year old page. He stays in period and in character, ornamenting his tale with digressions and scraps of poetry which contribute to the atmosphere but tend to slow the action.

The mass audience may wait for the movie, due for release at the end of this year, but the novel is an enjoyable, stylish historical action-adventure.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, $29.95

Review added July 2006
(originally published April)
Page updated May 2008