"He was not the most honest of men, nor the most pious one, but he was a brave man." - Íñigo de Balboa, The Adventures of Captain Alatriste
The Adventures of Captain Alatriste is a series of Historical Fiction novels written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte starring a Spanish soldier-turned-mercenary-turned-sword-for-hire, the titular Diego Alatriste y Tenorio (who was never an actual Captain in the Army, but was called that way). Alatriste is a veteran of the Flanders War that lives badly in 17th-century Europe, looking for shady jobs and sometimes being lead to international conspiracies involving the Spanish Crown and the Inquisition. At the same time, Alatriste trains a squire, Íñigo de Balboa, the orphan child of an old friend; Íñigo serves as the narrator of the story. The series includes adventures and noir in a well-researched historical setting.Seven books have been published so far, with two more in the making:
Captain Alatriste (1996): In 1623, Alatriste is trusted to take care of the young Íñigo while he awaits in Madrid to rejoin his division on Flanders. In order to make money, he accepts an offer to kill two English travellers that are about to arrive on the city, but the situation soon spirals our of control.
Purity of Blood (1997): Alatriste is hired by a family of conversos (descendants of Jews converted to Catholicism) to rescue their daughter from a convent she was forced to join, while poor Íñigo gets into a conflict with The Spanish Inquisition.
The Sun over Breda (1998): It's 1625 and both Alatriste and Íñigo as his squire travel to the front on Flanders, as an offensive is planned over the Dutch-held city of Breda. Looked down by some fans for its Unexpected Genre Change, as it's more of a war story with little resemblance to the swashbuckling theme of the first two books.
The King's Gold (2000): Arriving in Seville from Flanders, Alatriste is hired to lead a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits against a docked Flemish ship that is suspected of smugling Indian gold out of Spain.
The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet (2003): Back in Madrid, Alatriste begins a relationship with the famous theatre actress María de Castro, but soon becomes enbroiled in a fight with a mysterious cavalier for the love of the actress and a wider conspiracy against the Spanish Monarchy.
Corsairs of the Levant (2008): Alatriste and Íñigo join the galleys of the Levant in their struggle against the Ottoman Turks, leading them to an adventure all over the Mediterranean.
The Bridge of the Assassins (2011): Christmas 1627. Alatriste must join forces with an old enemy in a cover mission to kill the Dogue of Venice.
Alquézar's Revenge (unreleased)
Mission in Paris (unreleased): Presumed to be set against the backdrop of the 1643 Battle of Rocroi and culminate with Alatriste's death
There is also a movie, starring Viggo Mortensen, that tries to condense the nine plots all at once.
Provides Examples Of:
Anti-Hero: Alatriste is a hired sellsword desperately clinging to his broken and battered moral compass.
Aristocrats Are Evil: And the lower nobles the worst of all. The Count of Guadalmedina is an exception.
Catch Phrase: ¡No queda sino batirnos! (There's no choice but to fight!)
Crapsack Country: the novels portray 17th-century Spain in all its military, literary and artistic glory... and all its political, ecomonical and moral misery.
Combat Pragmatist: everybody. Alatriste particularly makes a point of teaching Iñigo all the dirty tricks.
Compressed Adaptation: The movie is mostly a cut-and-paste job of elements from all the books. Which means that unlike in the individual books (which all had interesting plots), we don't actually get an engaging plot, just a selection of set pieces (it's as if the movie was a series of illustrations for the novels).
Corrupt Bureaucrat / Corrupt Church: often alluded to as two of the chief reasons behind the decline of the Spanish Empire. Olmedilla, in The King's Gold, is noted for not being a corrupt bureaucrat, which makes him a kind of rara avis.
Cynical Mentor: Alatriste has shades of this in regard to Iñigo, not out of cruelty or ill-disposition, but simply because of the Crapsack World setting. One of the most emotional moments happens in The Sun over Breda, when he slits a wounded enemy soldier's throat in the aftermath of a battle. Iñigo calls him out on it; Alatriste quietly replies that he's merely put the man out of his misery, and that they'll be lucky if they get the same treatment when their moment comes.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Someone insulted you? Kill him! You think someone insulted you? Kill him! You pretend someone insulted you because someone else paid you to kill the first someone? ¡No queda sino batirnos!
Edutainment Show: The series was created by the author to teach his teen daughter about the Spanish Golden Age, with each book being devoted to one aspect of it. In the published books, these are respectively Politics, Religion, the Flanders War, Economics, Theatre, the low-scale Forever War against the Turks in the Mediterranean and the long time love/hate relationship between Spain and the Republic of Venice.
Even Evil Has Standards / Wouldn't Hurt a Child: despite being portrayed as a thoroughly rotten guy, Gualterio Malatesta can't bring himself to kill 13-year-old Iñigo Balboa. He's also visibly remorseful about handing Iñigo over to the Inquisition. Iñigo's age also saves him from torture at the hands of the inquisitors (it doesn't save him from a harsh interrogation, though)
Famous Ancestor: A joke in the later books reveals that Alatriste is a grand-nephew of Don Juan Tenorio (the author had in fact chosen Tenorio as Alatriste's mother's family name in homage to Don Juan, when he was writing the first book).
Note that in the original legend (and especially Zorrilla's play Don Juan Tenorio, which is the one most Spaniards are familiar with), Don Juan is just as famous as a duelist as a, er, "seducer", so this also works as a sort of In the Blood for Alatriste.
Hidden Badass: Alatriste is a man of few words in the Spanish underworld of the time, where bragging and boistering are the norm. Some make the mistake of taking him for a coward, and pay dearly for it.
Highly debatable in the case of Olivares: he's a shrewd, ruthless politician, but his goals aren't particularly villainous and he never goes out of his way to do anything evil. Alquézar and Bocanegra, on the other hand, are straight examples.
Homage: the whole series can be read as Pérez Reverte's homage to the genre of historical adventure, especially Alexandre Dumas and PatrickO'Brien, but with a Darker and Edgier twist. It also reads as a Perspective Flip, since much of that literature has traditionally been written by British or French authors and tends to portray Spaniards as the bad guys.
Homage Shot: In the movie, the scene of the surrender of Breda is modelled after Velazquez's famous painting.
Improvised Weapon: Shwasbucklers use their cape both as a weapon (throwing it over the opponent's sword to destabilize him or over his head) and as a shield. This is historically accurate.
King Incognito: The point over what two of the books revolve The Englishman that Alatriste is hired to kill in Captain Alatriste is the Prince of Walles and future king Charles I of England travelling in disguise, and Alatriste's rival for the actress' love in The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet is none other but Philip IV of Spain.
Precision F-Strike: Several instances. It's also pointed out in the first book that sailors learn insults phonetically in other languages to shout at the opponent before the expected Boarding Party.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: in Corsairs of the Levant Alatriste kills two soldiers in his own unit without second thought because he walks in on them trying to rape a woman. Note that he stabs the guys without warning, and that this happens while the unit is conducting an unprovoked raid against said woman's tribe. An example of the Black and Gray Morality of the series.
Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Alatriste is paid to slay two men but refuses when the first one he is about to kill begs him to spare his companion. This makes him an enemy of the people who hired him.
Shell-Shocked Veteran: Alatriste is strongly implied to be this to some extent, up to the point of having suicidal tendencies.
Despite gypsies having arrived in Spain by that time, even The King's Gold (which is set in Seville) is historically accurate in lacking any mention of flamenco.
Viewers Are Geniuses: Since they are told by a "contemporary" narrator, the original books are in Old Spanish, often with words that are rare or no longer used today, and 17th-century slang popping out constantly in the dialogue. Not to mention the parts written in other languages without translation provided, such as Portuguese or even Germanía - an argot of the criminal underworld that has been dead for centuries. As expected, the series is a pain in the ass for proffesional translators.
War Is Hell: often alluded to, this trope takes the stage in The Sun over Breda and Corsairs of the Levant.