Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 historical novel The Three Musketeers is a classic for good reason. Filled to the brim with swordfights, duels, and political intrigue, all described in fantastic and captivating detail, this book elegantly records the exploits of young Frenchman d’Artagnan and his three friends, the musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, as they go on various swashbuckling adventures in 17th-century France. It is, save for a few minor flaws, most certainly fiction of the highest caliber and a worthy addition to any book collection. I had very high expectations for the work upon starting it, as I had seen and greatly enjoyed multiple film adaptations of it, and suffice to say Dumas’ work did not disappoint in the slightest.
The story begins in the south of France, near Gascony, and initially focuses not on one of the eponymous musketeers but on the young farmboy d’Artagnan, who is en route to Paris with his father’s sword and a recommendation letter to give to the head of the King’s Musketeers, Monsieur de Treville. After he rather rashly enters into a fight with a mysterious nobleman in the town of Meung his letter is stolen, and he by extent loses his chance to quickly become a musketeer. D’Artagnan does not forget this, and attempts to track down his new nemesis once in Paris. Unfortunately, his frantic efforts to find the man result in him getting involved in a duel with three of the musketeers, namely Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, which oddly enough leads to the four of them coming into conflict with some of the men of Cardinal Richelieu, a scheming official who wields more power in France than the king himself. The three musketeers and d’Artagnan are victorious and come out of the incident as friends. Soon afterwards, d’Artagnan and his friends get involved in some court intrigue involving the cardinal’s attempt to instigate a war with England by exposing an affair between the French queen and the Duke of Buckingham. The cardinal intends to effect that goal by revealing the queen’s gift of twelve diamonds to the duke, and it is up to d’Artagnan and his friends to fight their way past hostile agents all the way to London and recover the diamonds before the king can notice their absence. They accomplish this successfully and thwart the Cardinal’s schemes, only shortly afterwards be called to military duty at the siege of the Protestant stronghold La Rochelle. Here. d’Artagnan is made an honorary musketeer but also becomes the target of one of the cardinal’s spies, the English noblewoman Milady, and has to dodge assassination attempts as well as enemy bullets. The final portion of the book is spent focusing on the protagonists’ attempt to track down Milady before she can assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, a goal which she unfortunately succeeds in through cunning and manipulation. Just before she can escape, however, the musketeers catch up with her and bring her to justice. Right after defeating the main villain, d’Artagnan is awarded the prestigious position of lieutenant in the musketeers, and Athos, Porthos, and Aramis each go their separate ways.
There were several attributes pf particular interest in The Three Musketeers, many of them related to the historical setting. For starters, the integration of historical events and personages, such as the Siege of La Rochelle, the Duke of Buckingham, Cardinal Richelieu, and others with the more fictional aspects of the story was absolutely flawless. Also, the attention to detail in the 17th-century setting was impeccable and greatly added to the overall experience when reading. In addition, the plot is very sophisticated and is developed at a steady pace through the course of the novel. The author’s choice of a third-person omniscient storytelling perspective, which regularly alternates between various characters, allowed that plot to be developed in a much more intricate fashion than would otherwise be possible. On the other hand, there were a few attributes that hurt the overall enjoyability of the book somewhat, such as its great length and rather complicated plot. The Three Musketeers is over 540 pages long, which meant that each day it was necessary to read through 90 pages in order to finish before school started, and even though the book’s exciting plot and well-developed characters made reading rather bearable it could still get tedious. Overall, I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoys old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure and doesn’t mind a complicated plot or 540 pages of reading. A basic knowledge of 17th-century France would be helpful too, as Dumas does not go into a whole lot of detail into the historical background. If one does decide to read The Three Musketeers it will definitely prove to be worth the time invested in it, as it is well-written, engaging, and a tremendous book overall.
Review by Nic Quattromani