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Literature / Alatriste

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¡No queda sino batirnos!

"He was not the most honest man, nor the most pious, 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). It's partially based on the life of Alonso de Contreras and other Spanish soldiers of the time.

Alatriste is a veteran of the Flanders War who lives badly in 17th-century Europe, looking for shady jobs and sometimes being led 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:

  • 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.
  • Pirates 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.

At one time it was reported that two more books were planned, named Alquézar's Revenge and Mission in Paris, the latter being presumed to be set against the backdrop of the 1643 Battle of Rocroi and culminate with Alatriste's death. The series is in effective hiatus however, with Pérez-Reverte being devoted to the wartime spy fiction series Falcó and standalone projects like Gold (2017) and Sidi. He has not discarded resuming the series but it's clear that he hasn't promised to do so.

There is also a movie, Alatriste starring Viggo Mortensen as the title character, that tries to condense the nine plots all at once. A TV series adaptation aired in early 2015, flopping notably.

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 swordsman 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 he still always finds a way out.
  • Agent Peacock: Ginesillo, the ahembrado ("effeminate") mercenary from The King's Gold, is described as having long blond hair, a pretty face and a penchant for honeyed guitar songs, yet he is described as a fearsome fighter.
  • Ambiguously Evil:
    • Angélica de Alquézar. While it's clear that she is into her uncle's machinations, how much remains unknown.
    • Gualterio Malatesta counts as well. He is insistently presented as sneaky, malicious, and even sadistic, but his goals aren't much more evil than Alatriste's, as he is another hired gun who simply follows what his recruiter (who most of the time happens to be the Big Bad) orders him, and has even multiple Pet the Dog moments to his name.
  • Anti-Hero: Alatriste is a hired sellsword desperately clinging to his broken and battered moral compass.
  • Arc Words: The book series's most famous quote is ¡No queda sino batirnos! (There's no choice but to fight!). Contrary to popular belief, this is not Alatriste's Catchphrase, but a statement uttered by a drunk Quevedo in the first pages of the series. It doesn't fully become a recurrent quote either; if the quote comes up, odds are that it is said as a resigned Ironic Echo or a Flashback to Catchphrase.
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The first novel is impliedly set in 1623, a period in which the chairman of the Spanish Inquisition was Andrés Pacheco de Cárdenas. Replacing him with Emilio Bocanegra in the novel is definitely a case of making history Darker and Edgier, as Cárdenas was a known philanthropist and lived in an era where he never had to sign a single death sentence, very far from the book's Sinister Minister (and he was a Franciscan, an order that has a much better reputation than Dominicans in pop culture).
    • Although the story justifies it by implying the Inquisition is hopelessly corrupt, just like the rest of Spain, Bocanegra generally shows too much power for even a man on his job, it being said that he can literally sentence people to death in Madrid with just his word. In reality, the Spanish Inquisition was a system heavily bureaucratized and not especially friendly to gratuitous executions, where crimes had to undergo a lengthy process to be judged and death was the least common form of punishment.
    • King Philip IV is portrayed as an useless idiot, who delegates in Olivares so he can be away hunting and partying, who allows a five-on-one duel in front of him to amuse his guests, and who genuinely seems to believe that granting Alatriste the right to wear a hat on his royal presence (and to be executed by beheading instead of garroting) is a good way to reward him for saving Philip's life. In real life, while Philip was certainly a whoremonger and not the most competent ruler, he was neither uninterested nor incapable for governing affairs either (Olivares was an advisor, not a proxy), and he was definitely not the kind of spoiled airhead portrayed in the novel. This characterization, if anything, would evoke more his father Philip III.
    • The series repeats over and over the notion that the Battle of Rocroi was Spain's final defeat in the international landscape and the end of the dominance of the Tercios. This idea is popular and can be found in many textbooks, but it doesn't hold any more water that the pop belief that the Spanish Armada marked the fall of Spain against England. While Rocroi was decidedly a serious blunder, with a lot of symbolic value for France because it was the first time in centuries that they scored a big, direct win over Spain, it was not the utter annihilation Íñigo describes and did not even change the course of the war, with Spain returning the favor quickly with a crushing victory in Tuttlingen. The true end of their dominance would not come until around fifteen years later.
    • íñigo claims that Fernando Álvarez de Toledo and Alexander Farnese were huge hypocrites that disdained their own troops. The reader has no reason not to consider it true in the story (or at least Íñigo's own subjective opinion in-universe), but it doesn't stop being a rather arbitrary artistic license for two generals that owed much of their successes to their high leadership skills.
  • Beard of Evil: Alquézar sports a little beard, proper of a dastardly villain.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Meeting several historical characters, taking a part in historical events.
  • Better to Kill Than Frighten: In the first book, "Captain" Alatriste and Malatesta are hired to scare a pair of foreigners. But right after their contractor leaves, the guy accompanying him changes the order to "kill", with threats of burning at the stake if they fail to comply.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Quevedo at the end of the first book.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Angélica. Subverted in that Íñigo does see her as the Rich Bitch she is, but he is too much in love to do something.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Everybody, starting with the titular character and working up and down. Much of Iñigo Balboa's Character Development involves growing disillusioned with the morals and ideals of the age.
  • Catchphrase: Subverted. As said above in Arc Words, the identification of "There's no choice but to fight" to Alatriste or Quevedo is superficial at the best, being said by the former and rarely used again. (If Alatriste had something resembling a catch phrase, it would be depressed silence.) However, it does synthesize pretty well the universe's philosophy: if Quevedo is saying it, Alatriste is probably thinking it too.
  • Crapsack World: 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.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: Often alluded to as two of the chief reasons behind the decline of the Spanish Empire. Olmedilla from The King's Gold stands out for not being a corrupt bureaucrat, which even makes him a tragic character.
  • 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. Judging for Iñigo's digressions about his own life after the series, it worked 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.
  • Dashing Hispanic: The books show how actually unrealistic this archetype was. Guadalmedina is the only character that really might count, and it is because he is a high-class guy and actively cultivates this image.
  • Decadent Court: Complete with spies, masked conspirators and plenty of backstabbing.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Someone insulted you? Challenge him to a duel and kill him. You think someone insulted you? Challenge him to a duel and 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 a poor law enforcement and 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).
  • Evil Counterpart: Gualterio Malatesta is basically Alatriste without his Screw the Money, I Have Rules! part. Not what Malatesta thinks, though; he believes they are both the same.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Constantly invoked by Íñigo when thinking about Angélica.
  • 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.
  • Fille Fatale: Angélica de Alquézar, becoming also a Rich Bitch as she grows up.
  • 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.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Angélica and Íñigo.
  • 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 great friends in other circumstances.
  • 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.
  • Historical Domain Character: Lots of them.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Zig-zagged in the case of Olivares. He's a shrewd, ruthless politician with his hands stuck in literal conspiracies, but his goals aren't particularly villainous and he never goes out of his way to do anything evil, and at the end of the first book takes a Big Good-esque roles towards Alatriste. Alquézar and Bocanegra, on the other hand, are straight examples.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Alatriste.
  • Historical In-Joke: The Sun over Breda has one about how this painting was made (and why Alatriste does not appear on it).
  • Homage: The whole series can be read as Pérez Reverte's homage to the genre of historical adventure, especially Alexandre Dumas and Patrick O'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.
  • Improvised Weapon: Swashbucklers use their cape both as a weapon (throwing it over the opponent's sword or head to unbalance him and slow down his blade) and as a shield, which is historically accurate.
  • 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:
    • 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.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: "Your king is your king" (even if he is an incompetent douchebag).
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The fourth book presents a character known as Eslava, the "Galán de la Alameda", an obvious nod to modern, real life Spanish writer Juan Eslava Galán, who is a friend of Pérez-Reverte. Another mercenary is a Portuguese named Saramago, a reference to writer José Saramago, who once asked jokingly Pérez-Reverte to write him into a novel.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: María de Castro is a rather obvious stand-in for the Golden Age actress María Calderón with a few changes for story purposes. They are not meant to be the same character, though - the book mentions María Calderón herself s her successor in the Spanish theatre.
  • Non-Action Guy: Played for Drama with Olmedilla. While not being a fighter like the rest of the party, he takes part in the Niklaasbergen raid to ensure the plan goes the right way and gets swiftly killed as a result.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Malatesta invoke this towards Alatriste, and the latter sometimes agrees.
  • Politically Correct History: The series makes a point of averting this.
  • 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.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Moor Gurriato.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: In Corsairs of the Levant, Alatriste kills two soldiers in his own unit without second thoughts 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 presumably by choice, as she should know well his name.
  • Scary Black Man: The Moor Campuzano in The King's Gold, a huge mulatto complete with a BFS.
  • 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.
  • Shown Their Work
  • Sidekick: Alatriste initially tries to keep young Iñigo Balboa out of his dangerous and shady business, but soon gives up.
  • Sinister Minister: Inquisitor Bocanegra.
  • Swashbuckler
  • The Cavalier Years
  • The Film of the Book: Alatriste (2006), starring Viggo Mortensen.
  • The Man Behind the Curtain: Inquisitor Bocanegra. Literally: he is introduced in his first scene by emerging from behind a curtain in the room Alatriste is being hired as a hitman.
  • The Spanish Inquisition: Of course, given the setting. And this time, everybody expects it.
  • The Squad: The focus of the action in The Sun over Breda.
  • Toros y Flamenco:
    • Justified and done correctly. The second book opens with a 17th century historically accurate bullfight that does not look like modern ones in the least.
    • Inverted in The King's Gold. Despite gypsies having arrived in Spain by that time, the book's description of Seville lacks any mention of Flamenco, which could have been credible to some degree (though still not completely accurate)
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Since they are told by a "contemporary" narrator, the original books are in 17th century 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: Velázquez is first introduced as a young painter just arrived from Seville that Quevedo likes to mock.