In 2014 I was swept away by the sweeping, romantic French classic The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. Skipping the lesser known D’Artagnan romances, I decided to continue my journey with D’Artagnan, and his friends Aramis, Porthos and Athos in the later and better known The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas.
Our new tale opens some three or four decades after the adventures of the Three Musketeers, who have now all retired leaving only D’Artagnan, as Captain of the King’s Musketeers, in loyal service to the corrupt King Louis XIV. However unbeknownst to D’Artagnan his old friend Aramis, with the help of trusting Porthos, is the instigator of a treasonous plot to bring about the replacement of the inept king and an audacious break out from the Bastille of a mysterious young man; who has been secretly imprisoned most of his life with no known charge or reason.
The plot is both complicated and thrilling, and yet the actually mystery of ‘the Man in the Iron Mask’ is resolved within the first half of the novel. But it is to have long reaching consequences that ripple out through the rest of the novel. Which will send D’Artagnan out first in hot pursuit of former financier Fouquet and finally against his own friends, Aramis and Porthos, who are held out at the heavily fortified Belle Isle. Now at this point you may be wondering where is Athos?! Athos’ part in this story is a sad and lonely one, as he faces the departure and longs for the return of his only son, Raoul, who has journeyed to North Africa with the Duc de Beaufort. Which leaves him separated from his old friends and sorely missing from the action.
As with The Three Musketeers, this is a highly detailed tale with wordy, eloquent speeches and many interesting characters and threads which again swept me back to 17th century France for more adventures and intrigue. I did feel though there was less of the romance about these adventures and more of the cold, hard realities, such as: death, disgrace, ruin and heartache. This is a powerful, gripping read but the sadder tone and the fact I missed my favourite character, Athos, made this not quite as an enjoyable read as The Three Musketeers.
Overall, The Man in the Iron Mask is a gripping historical adventure full of political intrigue, betrayal and loyalty. There are other D’Artagnan romances by Dumas, which I am seriously tempted to go back to now. Good read.
Have you read this? Or any of the other D’Artagnan tales?