Pirates of the Levant is a novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, and one of the many tales of Captain Alatriste. I feel the need to preface this review by saying of the Captain Alatriste novels, I’ve only read the first one before and didn’t care for it. Pirates of the Levant is the sixth book in the series, so it’s possible I missed some background context skipping from book 1 to 6, but I don’t feel it affected my ability to follow the story.
Like Captain Alatriste, Pirates of the Levant is told (largely) from the perspective of the Captain’s ward and protégé, Ínigo who, aside from the fact that he is older, seems little different than he was in book 1: naive, hot-headed, and eager for adventure. Older now, there are several scenes where he and the Captain are at odds. Ínigo doesn’t simply differ to the captain on every occassion, so I guess that counts for character development.
I won’t mince words, this novel felt like as much of a slog as Captain Alatriste before it. There is a lot of love for these novels, but I don’t share it. Pérez-Reverte certainly has a unique voice: the narrative often breaks for poetry, short jumps of perspective, and frequent glimpses of the future. The characters are fairly 2 dimensional and end pretty much the way they start – there’s not much in the way of character development. In fact, like Captain Alatriste, Pirates of the Levant feels like a string of vinettes with scarcely a narrative thread to connect anything. You could have made this an anthology of short stories and it wouldn’t have lost a step.
But what really struck me was the ugliness of the world Pérez-Reverte portrays. He doesn’t sugar coat the deep seated racism that exists between the Europeans/Christians and the Ottomans/Muslims. I don’t attribute this to the author but as a sign of the times the book is set in.
If you like your swashbuckling adventure light and fluffy, this is not the book for you. If you like your swashbuckling adventure fun and dashed with humor, this is not the book for you. If you like your swashbuckling adventure full of viceral Robert E Howard-esque action, this is not the book for you. Oh, there’s plenty of blood and guts – bucket loads, in fact – but it’s hard earned. The novel makes you work for every moment of light, humor, or excitement. And frankly, I really could care less about any of the primary characters, which blunts from the climax for me considerably. I lay the blame at the lack of any narrative line through the book. You could read the first 2 chapters and skip to the last 2 chapters and, other than a handful of characters (who are little more than set dressing), you don’t really miss a beat.
Now all this said, I can’t say the book is terrible or not worth reading. As I said previously, Pérez-Reverte has a unique voice that, from a writer’s perspective, showcases some interesting tricks. Likewise, it gives the reader a good sense of conflicts in the 17th century Mediterranean and Spain. But unfortunately, nothing to change my opinion of the Captain Alatriste books. Were I not running a seagoing 7th Sea game and looking for source material, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. And I can’t imagine why I would read any of the other books in the series after this. Two trips to the well is enough to convince me that these aren’t the books for me.