"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. (Published in English as Pirates of the Levant.)
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. A TV series adaptation is in production.
Provides Examples Of:
The Ace: The Count of Guadalmedina, though his presence in the plot is usually fairly small. Still, he is handsome, rich, noble, cultured, popular, witty, and a good enough swordsman to give even Alatriste pause. He could easily be the protagonist of a more romantic and idealistic swashbuckling tale.
In terms of skill, Alatriste is the best swordman in the series, to the extent that he can hold his own against five Elite Mooks at once and even defeat Malatesta in a few moves after battling an entire night. He only gets in danger when outnumbered or disabled, and still he always finds a way out.
Agent Peacock: Ginesillo in The King's Gold, who is also acknowledged to be homosexual.
Ambiguously Evil: Angélica de Alquézar. While it's clear that she is into her uncle's machinations, how of it remains unknown.
Gualterio Malatesta counts as well. He is insistently presented as a sneaky, malicious, and even sadistic character, but his goals aren't much more evil than Alatriste's, as he is another hired gun who simply follow what his recruiter (who most of the time happens to be the Big Bad) orders him.
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 until the end of The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet.
Badass Mustache: Just look at the image, damn it! Iñigo laments in an aside his lifelong inability to grow one nearly so magnificent as Alatriste.
The Count-Duke of Olivares sports a fiery mustache too (as he did◊ in Real Life).
Catch Phrase: ¡No queda sino batirnos! (There's no choice but to fight!) Though this isn't Alatriste's catch phrase (his is depressed silence), but that of Don Francisco de Quevedo, one of Alatriste's closest friends. Though if Quevedo's saying it, Alatriste is probably thinking it.
Crapsack Country: The novels portray 17th-century Spain in all its military, literary and artistic glory... and all its political, economical 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.
Cultured Warrior: What Alatriste spends most of the series trying to make Iñigo into. As the boy is determined to follow the good Captain into the life of a soldier, Alatriste gets him a worthy if somewhat haphazard education in the classics as well as in Latin and Greek, so Iñigo has prospects beyond those of a poverty-stricken veteran. From Iñigo's digressions about his own life after the series, it took and he ended up doing rather well for himself.
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! Welcome to an honor culture with an overabundance of poverty-stricken veterans.
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.
El Spanish O: The Moor Aixa Ben Gurriat is forced to change his name to the hispanicized "Gurriato" upon joining the Spanish navy.
Even Evil Has Standards / Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Despite being portrayed as a thoroughly rotten guy, 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.
First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Íñigo Balboa y Aguirre, the young Basque squire of Alatriste, is the first person narrator of each of the books. They're written as if his memoirs from late in life, so he regularly hints at later events including various characters' eventual deaths and his own career following in Alatriste's footsteps as a soldier.
Friendly Enemy: Gualterio Malatesta, to a surprisingly sympathetic extent. He sees Alatriste as a familiar Worthy Opponent, and genuinely believes (with some accuracy) that they could have been high friends in other circustances.
Hidden Badass: Alatriste is a man of few words in the Spanish underworld of the time, where bragging and boasting 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.
King Incognito: The point around which two of the books revolve: the Englishman that Alatriste is hired to kill in Captain Alatriste is the Prince of Wales 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.
Meaningful Name: Possibly for Inquisitor Emilio Bocanegra, whose last name means "black mouth." He is a rather vile and hateful man whose mere word can damn a person to torture and death, and is introduced ordering Alatriste to murder someone he had only been hired to scare off.
Alatriste means literally "sad wing", which may be a reference to his depressing (but accurate) life philosophy.
Malatesta means "bad head" in Italian, which defines most of his character.
In a funnier light, Bartolo Cagafuego's last name means literally "fire shitter", which references his spirited boasts.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: María de Castro is a rather obvious stand-in for the real actress María Calderón with a few changes for story purposes. Ironically, the book mentions María Calderón as her sucessor in the Spanish theatre.
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.
Running Gag: Angélica constantly mispronounces the name Alatriste, calling him Batistre or El Triste, although she presumably knows well his name.
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 professional translators.
War Is Hell: Often alluded to, this trope takes the stage in The Sun over Breda and Corsairs of the Levant. All Iñigo can manage to say of it when asked later is that it's "dirty and gray."
Warrior Poet: Don Francisco de Quevedo, literally and despite a lame foot. Iñigo as narrator, as well, especially given his regular digressions about his life after Alatriste's death where he is almost as capable a swordsman and soldier as Alatriste, but more fortunate in politics and promotion.
Young Future Famous People: Velazquez is first introduced as a young painter just arrived from Seville that Quevedo likes to mock.