Reviewed by: Terry
4 out of 5 stars
This is my favourite of Perez-Reverte's books that I've read thus far. The stoic fencing maestro Jaime Astarloa is living out his remaining days of quiet desperation with a philosophical stiff upper lip as he watches the way of life he has devoted himself to fade into unlamented obscurity. Don Jaime spends his days teaching bratty aristocrats the art of the sword, an art they appear to no longer need or care about, and marking time with his few acquaintances in the Cafe Progresso; a sad group of older men watching their decline in disbelief, each a victim of their own inability to make anything meaningful of their lives.
Into this quiet decline comes the unexpected appearance of a beautiful and mysterious woman, Adela de Otero, a veritable whirlwind of transformation whose request to learn from him the deadly "two hundred escudo thrust" plunges the hapless fencing master into a world of danger and intrigue quite at variance with his expectations for his sunset years, though not, perhaps, wholly against his secret wishes.
The political turmoil and colour of 19th century Madrid is brought to vivid life by Perez-Reverte and Don Jaime's position as a virtual outsider within his own society make him an excellent viewpoint character for the reader. The poignant decline of Don Jaime, along with his perseverence despite the obstacles put before him, make him sympathetic despite his relatively cool nature. I really enjoyed reading this book and come back to it often to simply soak in the atmosphere so effectively created by Perez-Reverte.
April 2012 re-read: Still love it. Don Jaime is a great character and Adela de Otero is almost worthy to be classed with Milady de Winter. Awesome sense of time and place as well and all wrapped up in a fairly unconventional swashbuckler.
Also posted at Goodreads