2007-10-04 / Opinions

Book Review

Purity of Blood By ARTURO PEREZ-REVERTE
Reviewed by PEGGY BARNETT

Arturo Perez-Reverte writes historical novels set in his homeland of Spain. This one, Purity of Blood, is the second in a series he is writing about characters in the early 17th century. (The Mary Willis Library also has the first book in the series, Captain Alatriste, if readers prefer to begin at the beginning.)

The narrator is Inigo Balboa, a 13-year-old whose father was killed in battle, fighting for the king. His mother has sent him into the care of his father's friend and fellow soldier, Captain Alatriste. Inigo admires and tries to imitate the courageous, skilled, and honorable captain. Unfortunately, in this corrupt and evil-haunted land, the captain is not paid for his wartime service, and must offer his sword for hire.

The purity of blood of the title refers to the historical fact that any taint of Jewish heritage may lead to the dreaded attention of the Inquisition. The daughter of a prosperous merchant is being held prisoner in a defiledconvent, and the villains of the story threaten to reveal his family history if he appeals to the king. He goes, instead, to a friend of Captain Alatriste, who agrees to help in a rescue attempt.

The "purity of blood" is also a metaphor for the honor of the captain and his friends in contrast to the dishonor and evil of their enemies, who are of influence in the Church and government. This struggle is the background for a tale of derring-do and breathtaking action. Because of treachery, the rescue attempt goes awry in a big way, and young Inigo becomes a prisoner.

"I had heard enough about the practices of the Inquisition -- that sinister shadow that had loomed over our lives for years and years and years -- to know my destination: the dreaded secret dungeons of the Holy Office,in Toledo." Though beaten and abused, Inigo's stubborn courage enables him not to give the captain away. He does not hope for rescue: "The fact is that later, life -- the passing years, adventures, loves, and the wars of our lord and king -- caused me to lose faith in many things. But I had already, young as I was at the time, ceased to believe in miracles."

Faith is a theme of the novel. The Church had become notoriously corrupt, but Perez-Reverte and his characters have faith in integrity and love, and we cheer them on through their turbulent adventures. The author is skillful. Foreshadowing is well-handles: "What I did not know -- God save me! -- was how I would come within a hair of losing my own [life.]" The outcome is not predictable, and though some will die in terrible ways, exactly who will survive is not clear until the end.

Purity of Blood is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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