Monday, 1 January 2018

Review: Under the Red Robe by Stanley J. Weyman

Stanley J. Weyman is one of the big authors of swashbucklers from the decades between Alexandre Dumas and Rafael Sabatini. But, unlike the mentioned masters, his name is more or less forgotten these days. Nevertheless, he was a prolific author and known for the accuracy of historical details in his adventure stories. Under the Red Robe is set in the late 1630, at a time when Cardinal Richelieu's growing power was suddenly challenged in the plot that came to be known as the Day of the Dupes.

The protagonist of the story is Monsieur de Berault, a known dueller and arrogant trouble-maker who, it is soon revealed, has saved the cardinal's life some time in the past. Even such a feat, however, just barely saves his skin when the Cardinal's Guards catch him after an ill-advised duel with an inexperienced youth and bring him to face the Red Eminence. Cardinal Richelieu agrees to let de Berault go, but only if he agrees to bring in a man who is plotting against the cardinal.

What begins in a rather swashbucklery fashion soon takes a turn into romance: de Berault finds himself attracted to a woman, Mademoiselle de Cocheforêt, who is the sister of the man he is supposed to capture. But even as he's losing his heart, he knows that the woman will never forgive him for having introduced himself with a false name and false intentions.

Weyman's prose is not the most exciting and his dialogue is sometimes very utilitarian, if not dull. But the story kept me interested until the end and I was happy to find that the romance gave way to some action towards the end. The somewhat melodramatic turns of events and tone of language are excusable in light of the story Weyman is telling. The historical detail was sparse but accurate, even if this was not quite the swashbuckler I was expecting.