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"The Fencing Master"
(reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky JUN 12, 2005)
Don Jaime Astarloa is "The Fencing Master" in this marvelous novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. The year is 1868. Don Jaime lives in Spain and makes a modest living teaching fencing to young men of means. He also meets regularly with a rakish aristocrat, Luis de Ayala, a wealthy womanizer and gambler who enjoys parrying with words as well as swords. The fifty-six year old Don Jaime has been working for years on what he hopes will be the ultimate treatise on fencing, one that will surpass all others that preceded it.
This is a time of political upheaval in Spain. Queen Isabel II is on the throne, but those who vehemently oppose the monarchy are threatening to force her into exile. Although Don Jaime is oblivious to current events, he frequents a cafe where his acquaintances argue about politics for hours at a time. The fencing master is prepared to live the rest of his life following his predictable routine, when a beautiful young woman named Adela de Otero summons him to her home. Although she is already an accomplished fencer, Adela implores Don Jaime to become her teacher. Against his better judgment, he takes her on as his pupil, and he soon falls under her spell.
The Fencing Master is a marvel of elegant writing, and the character of Don Jaime is mesmerizing. He is an anachronism, a man who was born too late. He dresses in clothes that went out of style two decades ago, and he stubbornly holds on to his memories and to his old-fashioned code of honor. He also fences in a classical style that few people value anymore. In addition, Don Jaime is naive in the ways of the world, and he is quite unprepared for the sudden intrigue and danger that disrupt his peaceful existence. However, when the fencing master holds a foil in his hand, the years disappear, and Don Jaime becomes a formidable combatant who is the equal of any other fencer on earth.
All of the characters in this novel are intriguing, from the bewitching and mysterious Adela to the dissipated Luis de Ayala, and Perez-Reverte captures the tension of a country whose government is under siege. The fencing scenes are standouts. The author brings the reader into the gallery as the opponents thrust and parry, and there is a deliciously erotic quality about these descriptive passages. The denouement of this book is outstanding, as Don Jaime must rely on all of his emotional and physical resources to oppose the forces of evil that are closing in on him. The Fencing Master is a tour de force that left me breathless with admiration.
- Amazon readers rating: from 85 reviews
Read the first chapter of The Fencing Master at the author's site
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Club Dumas (1993, 1996 in US) (in Spanish)
- The Flanders Panel (1994, 1996 in US) (in Spanish)
- The Seville Communion (1995, 1998 in US) (in Spanish)
- The Fencing Master (1999 in US) (in Spanish)
- The Nautical Chart (2000, October 2001) (in Spanish)
- The Queen of the South (2002, June 2004 in US)
- The Painter of Battles (January 2008)
El Capitán Alatriste Historical Series :
- El capitán Alatriste (1996) --- Captain Alatriste (2005)
- Limpieza de sangre (1997) --- Purity of Blood (2006)
- El sol de breda (1998) -- The Sun Over Breda (2007)
- El oro del rey (2000) -- The King's Gold (2008)
- El caballero del jubón amarillo (2003) -- The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet (September 2009)
- Pirates of Levant (September 2010)
Other historical novels:
Movies from books:
- The Ninth Gate (1999) based on The Club Dumas
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- The official English website for Arturo Pérez-Reverte
- El Captan Alatriste: the official website for Arturo Pérez-Reverte (In Spanish)
- Read a chapter excerpt from Captain Alatriste
- BookPage review of The Fencing Master
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Nautical Chart and The Seville Communion
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Queen of the South
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Painter of Battles
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About the Author:
Arturo Pérez-Reverte was born in 1951 in Cartagena, Spain. . A retired war journalist, he covered conflicts in Angola, Bosnia, Croatia, El Salvador, Lebanon, Libya, Nicaragua, Romania, the Persian Gulf, and Sudan, among others. He now writes fiction full-time.
His books have been translated into 34 languages in 50 countries and have sold millions of copies. In 1998, Club Dumas was nominated for A World Fantasy Award. Watch for the Roman Polanski movie starring Johnny Depp called The Ninth Gate. It is based on The Club Dumas.
Pérez-Reverte lives in Madrid, Spain, where he was recently elected to the Spanish Royal Academy.