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The Fencing Master Paperback – June 7, 2004
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In The Club Dumas, Arturo Pérez-Reverte explored the labyrinthine world of antiquarian book dealers, spicing his tale of mystery and murder with characters straight out of Paradise Lost and The Three Musketeers. Next came The Flanders Panel, a brilliant puzzle comprised of art, chess, and untimely death whose resolution lies in a painting by a Flemish master. In The Seville Communion, Pérez-Reverte turned his sights on the tangled politics of the Roman Catholic Church as an appropriate backdrop--for murder. In his fourth novel translated into English, the Spanish writer changes centuries (if not his focus on homicide), returning to the mid-1800s to follow the exploits of Don Jaime Astarloa, the eponymous fencing master.
The year is 1866 and revolution is brewing in Spain. The corrupt Bourbon queen, Isabella II, is slowly losing her grip on power as equally corrupt exiled politicians vie to be her successor in a new republic. Against this background of political upheaval, Don Jaime goes about his business, teaching a dying art to a dwindling number of students. This is a man who resists changing times; to a friend he explains, "I have spent my whole life trying to preserve a certain idea of myself, and that is all. You have to cling to a set of values that do not depreciate with time. Everything else is the fashion of the moment, fleeting, mutable. In a word, nonsense." But then Adela de Otero--a woman with a mysterious past and an amazing talent for swordplay--comes into his life, and Don Jaime's world is turned upside down. As always, Pérez-Reverte offers literary excellence, a thumping good mystery, and fascinating insight into an arcane practice, in this case, fencing. Though the 19th-century politics in the book may resonate more with a Spanish audience than with English readers, the moral at the heart of The Fencing Master is universal: "to be honest, or at least honorable--anything, indeed, that has its roots in the word honor." In this, Don Jaime and Arturo Pérez-Reverte both succeed. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Spain's bestselling novelist follows three polished and erudite thrillers (The Flanders Panel; The Club Dumas; The Seville Communion) with a fourth that combines the classic art of fencing, 19th-century Spanish monarchical politics and the eternal lure of the femme fatale. Don Jaime Astarloa, aging and solitary, is Madrid's greatest fencing master, eking out a threadbare living in this age of the pistol by teaching the sons of the nobility. In the hot summer of 1868, while rumors abound in Madrid of possible insurrection and the forced abdication of Queen Isabelle II, Don Jaime is visited by a beautiful young woman calling herself Adela de Otero, who offers him double his usual fee to teach her a secret, famously difficult sword thrust. At first Don Jaime refuses to consider a woman as a student; but with her intricate knowledge of fencing and the mysterious, tiny scar at the corner of her mouth, Adela wins him over and proves to be an expert fencer, gifted, disciplined and determined. Soon she is winning Don Jaime's heart as well. Thus is set into motion a complex succession of plots and counterplots analogous to the thrust and parry of a fencing match. P?rez-Reverte is a master of lushly atmospheric suspense, and his prose is as spellbinding in the fencing gallery as it is in the arcane realm of honor and loyalty that shapes Don Jaime's world. The mysteries unravel to the final pages, as Don Jaime pursues his lifelong dream of discovering "the unstoppable thrust," not in politics, contemplation of his art or even romance, but on the floor of battle. 100,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; author tour. (June) FYI: The Ninth Gate, the film of P?rez-Reverte's The Club Dumas, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Johnny Depp, will open in April.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Arturo-Perez's writing style takes an already decent mystery and turns it into a wonderful read. The Fencing Master is earlier in his writing career and does not reach the heights of some of his best work, but nearly so. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful read. For me, it is 4 stars, but note that I tend to rate more critically than most reviewers who give 5 stars to a book that they managed to finish.
Fencing is an exciting art, and although im far from understanding the lingo, at least i was able to discern the connection that it had to the overall murial painted for us by the author.
The master Don Jaime is a very interesting character with a very rich, but lonely life, someone who is very much in touch with his weaknesses, and yet someone who has a strong sense of his unalterable end, and knows that there s nothing that can be done about it..So he keeps on going by his routine.
At such point he falls in love, which his spirit strongly resists, as much as his heart resists the fact that he is not yet withered away and is in fact ready for such an encounter. That said, his professionalism does not allow him to cross the boundary...In fact that same adherence to the meticulousness in his life may save his hide later.
What's interesting all throughout the book, is that as we become more familiarized with Don Jaime's inner world, we also get too see why he is assigned a complicated role of the maitre of arms - a fencing master.
This is a lovely tale of character in the face of odds and the feelings that come with changing times... plus a little intrigue always helps. A quick and easy read.
Im ready to read more by Perez-Reverte.
Background abstract from the text: "In Madrid in 1868, fencing master and man of honor Don Jaime is approached by a mysterious woman who seeks to learn the secret of the unstoppable thrust, an arcane technique known only to him. All too soon he finds himself in the vortex of a plot that includes seduction, secret political documents, and more than one murder. Rich with the historical detail of a decaying world that agonizes--as does the world of fencing itself--over the ideals of honor and chivalry, The Fencing Master is superb literature and a true page-turner."
This is the second Perez-Reverte book I've read and I have to admit I really like his intelligent style of writing. I found the first half of the book to open very slowly building the back-story for the protagonist (Don Jaime Astarloa) and potential love interest with Adele De Otero who insistently pleads with him to teach her the fencing secret he perfected; "the unstoppable thrust."
*Spoiler here* The second half of the book quickly builds suspense and intrigue ending with a shocking conclusion. The final part of the story ends with Don Jaime discovering that Adele was acting as the agent of espionage for powerful economic interests. She attempts to kill her Maestro with the same fencing thrust maneuver she learned from him but with which he executes with the skill of "The Fencing Master" leading to her demise (with the thrust through her eye socket).
Well done and rife with a vivid historical backdrop and references. Five stars.
There is foreshadowing and symbolism here, but they are well disguised. Like all of Perez-Reverte's works, this book is many things--history, mystery, and a mindgame. I didn't think his mystery lady here was a stereotype, but rather a sexy femme-fatale befitting the nature of the yarn. And he kept me guessing until the smashing end. Bravo!