I started reading Alexandre Dumas' d'Artagnan Romances (otherwise known as the series of books featuring the famous Three Musketeers) sometime before Christmas last year. I'd heard a lot about the books, and I'm a sucker for gallivanting mischief-making heroes, so I thought I'd give it a go.
It didn't take long for me to become completely besotted with the series. To anyone who hasn't read it, it's wonderful stuff; adventure, romance, mischief-making, and more laughs than I would have expected any such book to contain. I got very attached to our four main protagonists, and thus I knew I had to hunt down the other books in the series to find out what happened to them next. I could scarcely believe that they would all just part ways and go off to live quiet, separate lives, nevermore to embroil themselves in ludicrious, yet somehow bizarrely effecive, feats of breaking-and-entering, terrorising the cardinal and generally bringing laughs and love to all who meet them.
Thus, I went forth, and bought Twenty Years Later. Though somewhat more complicated than its predecessor, the adventure was bigger and better than ever, and the new villain was a wonderfully eerie reminder of business left unfinished from the first book.
On and on I went through the books. The plots got thicker, the reading got slower, and we spent more and more narrative time away from our four protagonists. I'll admit I nearly gave up on the series a couple of times here - we were dealing with characters that we had had no previous introduction to or reason to care about, everything seemed to be happening very slowly ... and what the heck have you done with Athos!? Seriously, we hardly see him at all through most of the later books, focussing mainly instead on a character we meet in Twenty Years Later, Raoul, and his friends, with the occasional cameo from D'Artagnan. As lovely as Raoul is, it wasn't him I wanted to read about.
And then came The Man in the Iron Mask, the final installment of the series. The books had been growing steadily darker, and the fierce friendship between the Musketeers had been stretched and pulled and twisted in all directions as the factions surrounding the young king shifted and scrabbled for handholds. While D'Artagnan struggles to make sense of it all, Athos chews his nails and tries to work out why he feel something is about to go horribly wrong, Aramis schemes and Porthos is seen in places even more inappropriate than usual, the reader slowly becomes more and more confused.
But I'll be eaten by tribbles if I say that the last book didn't grip me. Gone was my old lethargy - the stakes were high, the battle-lines were drawn, and the players' moves were stunning (even if several of them did come swinging wildly out of the left field to hit you in the face). Love, betrayal, powermongering, loyalty tried and tested ... words cannot describe the emotion.
And no one came out unscathed. Not even Raoul, who has no further designs than marrying the woman he loves and protecting his friends. The king himself is in so many knots that the untangling ruins not only his finance minister, but also damages his family and friends.
But the greatest blow of all comes to the Musketeers. I never expected their story to end like this. They have all had their share of ups, downs, and sickening lurches that have resulted in situations involving cellars, awkward disguises, and at least one goat between them, but you would never, ever, expect a story with such gallant, unfearing, and remarkably adept escapists to end so well. These guys have survived the English Civil War, the scheming of Richelieu and Mazarin, and the personal vendetta of a woman who could eat Lucrezia Borgia for breakfast.
But in the end, that doesn't save them.
Aramis bites off more than he can chew.
Porthos trusts someone more than he should.
Athos leaves something crucial until too late.
And D'Artagnan has to make a terrible choice between his past, and his future.
For a long while, I just sat there staring at the page, not quite able to believe what had happened. Everything had unravelled so inexorably, and yet with every second I kept hoping that there would be one last twist, one last stroke of genius, that would stop it.
But it never came, and I was left sitting there, tears welling up, watching D'Artagnan's last words fade into blurriness before me.
"Athos, Porthos, au revoir! Aramis, adieu for ever!"
~ Charley R