This is the fourth in the Captain Alatriste series by Perez-Reverte. After their return from the war in Flanders, Alatriste and the narrator find themselves in Seville, with little money and no prospects. They are soon approached by an old friend, an undercover emissary from the King, and offered a dangerous but somewhat lucrative assignment.
As in the other novels in the series, Perez-Reverte manages to convey a sense of the profound corruption and dysfunction of Spanish society in the early 17th century. It was a society in which ‘nobles’ were freed from the obligation of work and taxes; commerce and labor were disparaged; and the stolen colonial wealth was diverted to the elites, and thence to Spain’s many creditors. It was an entirely unstable situation, as events were to show.
This is an exciting book, both for its historical and social commentary, as well as for the swashbuckling adventure. Alatriste is himself a fascinating character, one with no illusions, no hope, and yet no despair.