Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Review: The Mysterious Cavalier by Paul Féval, fils and M. Lassez

In my search of historical fiction set in the 17th century, I happened across the name of Paul Féval, fils and his series of stories, some of them written in collaboration with M. Lassez. What makes them especially interesting is that the authors quite freely took characters created by other authors - d'Artagnan and the familiar three musketeers and Cyrano de Bergerac - and wrote new stories about them.

The authors begin their first novel with a note saying that they uncovered historical journals missed by Alexandre Dumas that reveal more details about the missing decades between Dumas' original stories. However, the story is set in 1641 which still leaves quite a gap in years between it and Dumas' The Three Musketeers. But this is explained by their wish to also include Cyrano. Edmond Rostand's original play was set in 1640, so the choice of year is quite natural in that respect.

The first of the four part series, together referred to as The Years Between, introduces a new character, a young man of mere sixteen who goes by the name Tancrède and is looking for clues of his mysterious past. He arrives to Paris, quite new to the city. In a plot twist that defies the usual definition of 'coincidence', he happens to find lodging at a house and in the very room of a person who is involved in a battle of power with Cardinal Richelieu and happens to be a major player in the mystery of Tancrède's birth. Richelieu's servants rob the room believing that the other character is still lodging there and end up stealing the proof of Tancrède's birth by accident - thus involving Tancrêde in their plots as well.

Tancrède also quickly meets Cyrano and they befriend each other and Cyrano begins to help the young man in his search for his past. Tancrède soon makes reputation for himself and earns the name of The Mysterious Cavalier by which he is known thereafter in the story. In the meanwhile, Cardinal Richelieu calls for d'Artagnan's help in capturing his enemy, thus bringing our favourite musketeer and Cyrano and the Mysterious Cavalier on the opposite sides of the chess board.

The novel is very light-hearted, reminiscent of the style Dumas used in the first half of his The Three Musketeers, and the story moves forward relatively quickly. The characterisation of the main players is done very nicely and one immediately recognises d'Artagnan, Cyrano, Cardinal Richelieu and the future cardinal, Mazarin, as the ones we know from the original authors' works. However, the authors describe Richelieu as somewhat elderly at this point and Mazarin as the more cunning of the two, which does not quite sound true to their literary basis. Still, this introduces an interesting battle of power between the present and future cardinals, so I am forgiving towards the decision.

Since this is only the first part of the series, the plot does not take us very far. The characters are introduced, the Mysterious Cavalier's past is revealed to the reader (though not to the cavalier or his friends) and the chess pieces start moving on the board. Overall, I found the beginning of the story very gripping and the light-hearted style likeable and look forward to reading the sequels.

4/5

P.S. It should be noted that I read the 1929 Finnish translation of the story.