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As a person who read The Count of Monte Cristo twice, I was ready to devour this book and have The Man in the Iron Mask for dessert.
The story started out strong. D’Artagnan is an honorable fellow from the French back-woods of Gascony, riding his half-dead yellow nag across country to Paris in hopes of joining the venerated Musketeers of King Louis XIII. On his first day in Paris he manages to get in a duel with each of the legendary Three Musketeers. The Three Musketeers show up to second each other during their respective duels. They soon join forces to fight off the guardsmen of the villainous Cardinal Richelieu who are attempting to arrest them for illegal dueling. Together the four men bested five of the Cardinal's guard; uniting them as brothers.
Yes, loving this so far! Then things get weak for about 700 pages.
It was too much like a theatrical play where the drama is over played. This kind of thing: For this insult, I will avenge my honor—to the death!! Also, D’Artagnan burned with all consuming love for Mme. Bonacieux then shortly after she was captured by the Cardinal's forces, he burned with love for the villain, Milady; ill using her handmaiden to get to her. These romantic endeavors and intrigues go on and on. Blah.
I thought the Three Musketeers would be more about—The Three Musketeers! Athos, Porthos and Aramis—all for one and one for ALL! Sadly, these guys only pop in now and again to liven things up. I thought there’d be tight plots and subplots, with more action.
I had no idea that d’Artagnan was the main character. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the sub-title “Book One of the d’Artagnan Romances”. So what's so bad about d'Artagnan? You ask. Excellent question, I was just getting to that. Aside from the fact he has a name that is annoying to type, D'Artagnan suffers from perfect character disease. A vicious disease attacking the character's depth and rendering the afflicted unlikable by imperfect people such as myself. D'Artagnan is a great guy, he's handsome, young, an amazing fighter, compassionate, suave with the ladies, loyal, earnest—he's perfect—perfectly boring. Perfect characters are for NY Yankee fans.
Another problem was that this book was originally written as a serial novel. I had the same issue with The Tale of Two Cities. I think of 19th century serials as today’s television series. Imagine sitting down to watch a movie and putting in Downton Abbey; with the expectation of getting one cohesive story. It’s frustrating. The twist and turns later in the story don't really relate as well as they should to earlier parts of the story and it goes on and on and on. Had I read this story one episode at a time, eagerly awaiting next week's episode, I would have liked it more…
BUT somewhere in the last one-third of the book the villain extraordinaire, Milady, is captured. Then Dumas' stellar writing returns, complete with his ingenious plots. I flashed through the rest of the book and it ended in a most satisfying way. He tied up all disparate story-lines with excellent plot twists, action, and brilliant character revelations—and best of all—d’Artagnan was hardly there. The book ended leaving me wishing there was more. In a book of over 1700 pages, this is saying something. I’m glad I slogged through the 700 or so pages of d’Artagnan mire. The payoff was worth it.
There is another d’Artagnan romance novel between this one and the one that contains The Man in the Iron Mask—I’m leary. If it were less a d’Artangan romance and more Athos, Porthos and Aramis, I’d dive in. What to do? What to do?? I could skip it and jump to the story I want, but then I might miss nuances in the later story, and I hate missing nuances… The brilliance of a story is in the nuances, particularly when written by one such as Dumas...