"The Sun Over Breda," the third installment of Arturo Pérez-Reverte's delightful series of swashbuckling novels, once again focuses on the reluctantly heroic Captain Alatriste, a mercenary in the Spanish Army and a sword-for-hire in 17th-century Madrid.
This time out, the narrator is Inigo Balboa, a teenager taken in by Alatriste as a favor to a fallen comrade. He recounts the horror and drudgery of a protracted Spanish military campaign in Flanders and offers an extended meditation on a subsequent art mystery. The latter centers on Diego Velazquez's "The Surrender of Breda," a painting which may or may not have included Alatriste amid the high-ranking officials depicted in it. Balboa, meanwhile, remains awed and baffled by the taciturn captain.
The story glides between witty sonnets and nods to Cervantes and the hardened truths and miseries of siege and battle with ample vanity, unrequited romance, and personal rivalry added for good measure. Soldiers contend with lice, gaping wounds, confused battles, empty purses, and poor rations. Boredom and lack of action provide little respite, either. As Balboa reminds the reader, "Fear and watchfulness are bad companions to repose." Once again, Balboa and Alatriste remain good companions to dashing literary fun. Grade: B+