Retired soldier Diego Alatriste y Tenorio is a “captain” only by courtesy, having earned the title from his comrades during battle. Now he lives by his wits and his sword, taking on dangerous jobs and living—when he can afford it—in a room above a tavern.
Alatriste's latest problems begin when he is hired to perform a puzzling if remunerative mission: frightening a mysterious pair of travelers as they enter the Spanish capital of Madrid at night on horseback. Alatriste is of course curious about the identity of the travelers as well as that of the two hooded figures who have hired him, but a man in his position dare not ask too many questions. Nor can he back out when one of the secretive figures leaves the room and the other informs him that contrary to what he has just heard, he is to kill his opponents. When Alatriste ignores his second set of orders and spares the strangers, he earns their gratitude but incurs the wrath of powerful enemies. The remainder of Captain Alatriste describes in lively fashion how these factors play out.
Writing in the genre of historical adventure pioneered by Alexandre Dumas, Arturo Pérez-Reverte unfolds a colorful tapestry of seventeenth century Spain, working such genuine figures as painter Diego Velazquez and playwright Lope de Vega into his picaresque design. Readers may expect to meet his brave captain again, as four more of Alatriste's adventures are scheduled to appear in English in the years ahead. Presumably they will all be narrated by Alatriste's fledgling page Íñigo Balboa, who in this outing proves himself a most engaging raconteur.