The Three Musketeers

D’Artagnan, a young Gascon youth, sets out from his village with the hope of joining the regiment of the King’s Musketeers. As soon as he arrives in Paris he gets into trouble, first entangling himself in one, then two and finally three duels, all in one day! And with men from the very regiment of Musketeers he had hoped to join! But his adventures don’t stop there; before long, he becomes involved with the affairs of the Queen, Anne of Austria, herself and must enlist the help of his fellow Musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Together, the four friends journey through France escaping from the nets of the Cardinal and his dangerous spy, Milady, while all the time fighting duels at the slightest provocation.

I love the summary given at the back of the Wordsworth edition. It describes the book perfectly,

“One of the most celebrated and popular historical romances ever written. The Three Musketeers tells the story of the early adventures of the young Gascon gentleman. D’Artagnan, and his three friends from the regiment of the King’s Musketeers – Athos, Porthos and Aramis.


Under the watchful eye of their patron M. de Treville, the four defend the honor of the regiment against the guards of the Cardinal Richelieu, and the honor of the queen against the machinations of the Cardinal himself as the power struggles of seventeenth-century France are vividly played out in the background.


But their most dangerous encounter is with the Cardinal’s spy, Milady, one of literature’s most memorable female villains, and Alexandre Dumas employs all his fast-paced narrative skills to bring this enthralling novel to a breathtakingly gripping and dramatic conclusion.”

The characterization in this novel – especially of Milady and Athos – was so good that I actually wanted to meet the characters! The movie on The Three Musketeers does not do justice to either character. Milady reaches depths of evil and horror which aren’t shown in the film. All we see is an ambitious young woman who despite what she does, loved someone once and wasn’t truly evil. But in the novel, the description of Milady and the suppressed animal within, how she is able to ensnare anyone while putting on an act, her ability to sense every weakness in man – all are so wonderfully drawn. As for Athos, he is shown as the true nobleman that he is, and his quiet way of handling even the most alarming of situations makes him particularly attractive while at the same time remaining mysteriously charming. Though not the hero of the novel, he is the most important character and the leader of the Musketeers; Keith Wren, in his introduction to The Three Musketeers sums it up when he writes,

“For Dumas – and for us – it is the three musketeers – Athos, Porthos, Aramis – who represent the fantasy of eternal youth, a refusal to compromise with the greyness of the modern world, the glorification of the undying spirit of adventure.”

I keep forgetting that The Three Musketeers is historical fiction. The Cardinal Richelieu, King Louis XIII and Queen Anne were actual historical figures, as was the Duke of Buckingham and his murderer, Felton. Alexandre Dumas has fashioned a unique story with these real live characters. It was rumored that the Duke was in love with the Queen of France (this is also mentioned in The King’s General), and in this novel the flirtation was embellished, with Queen Anne and the Duke having many secret meetings. The various love triangles in this novel make for a lot of intrigues, a lot of duels, and most of all, a lot of jealousy!

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The Unknown Ajax

OK, so I went and bought another Heyer regency romance. They’re addictive. And with The Unknown Ajax, I finally hit upon one of Heyer’s best. 

The characters:
Lord Darracott: The head of the household. An eccentric and miserly individual. Father of four sons, three of which are deceased. He controls the whole family by withholding his money.

Hugh Darracott: Son of Lord Darracott’s second son, he has never met the family. They expect him to be of low class with horrible manners due to his father’s marriage to a ‘weaver’s daughter‘. With the death of Lord Darracott’s eldest son and grandson, he is now the heir to the title and estate.

Matthew Darracott: Lord Darracott’s only surviving son. After his brother’s death he believes he is the heir. He comes to Darracott Place when he learns otherwise. With him come his two sons, Vincent and Claud.

Vincent Darracott: Matthew’s elder son, he and his grandfather seem to be one of a kind. Selfish and a lavish spender, his lazy, no-care attitude suffers a check in front of his grandfather – from whom he is always borrowing money. He hates Hugh for stealing away the title from his father which would have then passed to him.

Claud Darracott: His dream is to be the Pink of the Ton i.e. the best dandy in town. He eagerly takes big, clumsy, slow-witted Hugh under his wing to mould him into a gentleman.

Richmond Darracott: The son of Lord Darracott’s youngest son, he is the Lord’s favorite grandchild; He sees in him a spirit of his own and gives him his every desire – as he sees it. But Richmond has his own way of getting what he wants out of life, and as is usual in Georgette Heyer’s books, the brother of the heroine provides a lot of the drama – this is no different. He is brother to;

Anthea Darracott: The Lord has hit upon a great plan – to marry Hugh to his cousin Anthea. That way, the title and estate will stay in the family and Hugh can be controlled. Anthea is the only one of the grandchildren who is not afraid to stand up to her grandfather. She makes it clear to Hugh that she has no intention of marrying him – apparently, neither does he – which results in the two becoming fast friends. It isn’t long before Anthea begins to suspect that the dim witted behaviour is put on by Hugh.

Mrs. Darracott: Mother of Anthea and Richmond, she adores her children and stands in great trepidation of her father-in-law. She is forced to stay under his roof after her husband’s death.

Lady Aurelia: Wife of Matthew Darracott and mother of Vincent and Claud, she remains unaffected by the rages of her father-in-law Lord Darracott and maintains her cool under any situation. Descended from Earls, she has a commanding presence handling any situation with dignity.

Although the plot in this novel was easy to unravel, the characters were refreshingly different. Hugh, although rich and handsome, spent half of the book acting like a huge man with a low intellect. Although we knew he couldn’t be so (he’s the hero!) it was an interesting change. Anthea herself was fooled for a time which added to the fun. With the romance question cleared up in the beginning, Anthea is left free to fall in love – with a man she had told she would never marry! A light, refreshing read.

Castle Dor: Historical Fiction Challenge


“It is a curious coincidence that no poet, or shall we call him investigator, has ever lived to conclude this particular story. His work has always been finished by another.”

So says Doctor Carfax in Castle Dor. The words have an eerie quality when we learn that Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch died before completing his book which was later finished by Daphne du Maurier. The legend of Tristan and Iseult is one that has haunted poets and novelists alike with more than one version still extant. Castle Dor deals with the same legend set in 19th century Cornwall.

The legend
Tristan, a young knight and nephew to King Mark, brings home the Irish Princess Iseult who is to marry his uncle. The young couple accidentally (or intentionally in some versions) ingest a love potion meant for King Mark and Princess Iseult. They fall madly in love and pursue an adulterous relationship, hiding and scheming behind the King’s back. They are betrayed by Iseult’s maid and the King, intent on revenge, kills young Tristan with a poisonous arrow. In some versions he forgives the couple as long as Tristan agrees to leave. In this version, Tristan marries Iseult of the White Hands(namesake of Princess Isuelt), sister to Sir Kahedin, and leaves returning the Princess to her King.

Castle Dor is very detailed in the various versions of the story. We are introduced to Doctor Carfax and Monsieur Ledru who pursue the true origins behind the legend of Tristan and Iseult.  They believe that the place they have come to, known in the novel as ‘Troy’, is the actual setting of the star crossed lovers’ story. Their investigation reawakens the legend into the lives of Linnet Lewarne and Amyot Trestane. Recently married Linnet Lewarne hates her old husband. Descended from royalty her beauty and poise is matched by no other. Amyot, a Breton onion seller from aboard a ship, comes to Linnet’s inn. Even before they meet, Linnet is drawn to him by the sound of his voice. From that moment onward, their lives are connected and as Doctor Carfax realizes, they relive the original legend to the letter. He tries desperately to avert the end.

Linnet Lewarne is the reincarnation of the Irish Princess Iseult. The potion in the original legend is supposed to free the lovers from responsibility for their actions (such actions a noble knight would never dream of doing). But in the novel, although we have a certain drink, brewed and drunk by Linnet and Amyot, it is hard to absolve them of all responsibility. Linnet seems cold, harsh and cruel both to her husband and to all others who have done her no harm. Amyot on the other hand seems genuinely in love while not forgetting his duties to others. While in the beginning of the story I had some sympathy for Linnet, as the novel progressed, I found myself unable to like her.

Daphne du Maurier was the perfect author to finish the novel. Her love of old legends and stories, and the whole atmosphere created by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch suited her own style. In fact, I couldn’t see where the seam came in; where Sir Arthur left off and Daphne began. The story was executed flawlessly.

Venetia

My first read after exams: Venetia by Georgette Heyer. I love Georgette Heyer and have read many of her mysteries and romances, but I have to say, she isn’t that innovative in her plots. It’s always the same story: A rake falls in love with a spontaneous and unconventional girl. The perfect hero (although he’s had a questionable lifestyle) is bored with his life and has become hardened towards love. Venetia was no different. The hero of the novel, the rakish Lord Damerel, comes on a chance visit to his estate which lies next to Venetia’s home. They meet, are intrigued by each other, and soon a happy accident occurs which throws them in each others’ way for an extended period. The inevitable ensues and they fall in love. The next inevitable occurs and Lord Damerel sees how his scandalous reputation will never do for a good and beautiful girl like Venetia. He never asks her to marry him and sends her away. Then the happy coincidence happens that Venetia’s own parentage isn’t as spotless as one would have thought and so they can get married! Yay for everyone!

OK, it may seem that I don’t like Georgette Heyer but I do! It’s just that sometimes, I wish for something a little different. Novels like Cotillion and The Devil’s Cub are beautiful and I can read them again and again, but when I pick up a different novel, I want a different story. In Venetia, we have the same absurd yet likable characters in the form of Venetia’s two hopeful suitors; the same innocent and intriguingly beautiful girl, who is lovable and ‘different’ from all the run of the mill society ladies who have been setting their caps at the hero of the piece. Alright, so Lord Damerel wasn’t as in demand as some of the heroes of her novels are, but he was still rich, and that counts for something in the Heyer world. What always gets me, is that the guy, who has had such a reckless career is actually supposed to be kind, loving and caring underneath it all.

When all is said and done, a Heyer novel is meant to be taken as it is: a Regency Romance. It’s supposed to be delightful and entertaining and not modern in any way. That means, the end in view is always a happy marriage with proper considerations to money. Georgette Heyer includes a wealth of detail in her novels of the Regency Period. If that’s what you’re looking for, then Venetia is as good as any other. Although not one of Heyer’s best, any Georgette Heyer fan would swoon at the hero’s feet. He is all that is expected from a Heyer hero. But if you want variety, try Cotillion or April Lady.

The King’s General

It’s cold. I have hot cocoa to warm my hands, but my other hand holding the book is still freezing. Never mind, I still have to read. Why? Because I’m re-reading The King’s General! It is one of Daphne’s less popular books but I find the story irresistible. A historical novel set in the time of England’s Civil War, it contains many real life characters.

Honor Harris has a vivid recollection of meeting her brother’s wife Gartred Grenvile. Even at the young age of 10, she is able to see behind Gartred’s mask. Everyone has fallen victim to her beauty and charm, but not Honor. In her childish way, she mistrusts Gertrude. After her brothers death, Honor thankfully believes that she has seen the last of the ‘Grenviles’. Never was she more wrong. The Grenviles and the Harrises are to play further roles in each others life for decades to come.

At eighteen, Honor Harris and Gartred Grenvile’s brother Richard Grenvile fall in love. Whether their love is consummated we never know. What we do know is that they never marry; they are torn apart only to meet years later. Yet their love endures. Richard Grenvile is now Sir Richard Grenvile: the King’s most trusted general. The King has fallen and soon Oliver Cromwell is in reign, but Richard will do anything to protect his King.

The love story between Richard and Honor is anything but conventional. At times, I was left wondering how their love, not only survived, but strengthened over the years. What was the magnetic quality that drew them towards each other. Richard is anything but a gentle lover. He is cruel and ruthless; so much in fact that Honor fears he will lose what influence he has with the King and his trusted men. I never thought I could ever love a novel which did not end happily. The King’s General proved how wrong I was.

The novel takes place mostly in ‘Menabilly’, an estate owned by the Rashleighs. The house is the one on which she based her descriptions of Manderley in the novel Rebecca. Daphne had always been fascinated by the house and the legend of the bones found in the buttress. With a little bit of imagination and some history, she fashions a love story that you almost believe is true – or at least wish it to be so.

I felt that this book was different from Daphne du Maurier’s other novels because the narrator, Honor Harris, is a strong young woman who has no qualms about who she is. She has a confidence and maturity, even at eighteen, that is lacking in some of her other narrators. She reminds me a little of Mary Yellen, the protagonist in Jamaica Inn. Her realistic and matter of fact attitude is refreshing after the uncertainty and under-confidence of the narrators in I’ll Never be Young Again, My Cousin Rachel and even a little in Rebecca (you know it’s true). Unlike them, Honor has always known her mind and what she intends to do. Her strength is what gets her through her…..let’s just say ‘sorrows’ , and what allows her to let the man she loves go.