‘ve noted before how confusing this series is (from a structural sense) – it’s been released as two books, as three, and including (or excluding) The Man in the Iron Mask. So the version I’m reading is the middle three of the The Vicomte of Bragelonne series, all about Athos’ son’s love for Louise de la Vallière, a confused country girl made even more confused by the glitter (and corruptive influence) of the court (she now has a position as a lady-in-waiting for Lady Henrietta, the English wife of the son of the French King, second in line to the throne).
So, see how confusing it can get?
So, this middle book is like a desert located between two pleasantly shady forests. In The Vicomte of Bragelonne (the first book, not the series), we have d’Artagnan’s continuing midlife crisis, his kidnapping of an English General, his restoration of Charles II to the throne, and his scouting of the illegal fortification of Belle-Isle. It was a lot of fun. But in this book, things focus on the French Court, which apparently has nothing better to do that flirt, giggle, and scheme against each other. Honestly, they are like a bunch of high schoolers in the weeks leading up to the prom. And if anything is overdone, it’s the number of times that people are “overheard” discussing their romantic interests. You are never safe in the French court, not even in the middle of the woods at 2am, or up in a tree, on under cover during a driving rainstorm. There are ALWAYS ears wide and eager for your information.
And that gets, with all deference to Dumas, tedious. Oh, there were good lines and clever turn-abouts, but really, outside of Buckingham running a sword through stupidly-embittered de Wardes as a rising tide swirls around their knees, not much happens. Oh, Louise falls for the King, which means that she is technically cheating on her fiancé Raoul (which I know won’t end well), and Lady Henrietta schemes while Anne of Austria wilts with cancer, but really it is all droll observations and parlor chats and he-said, she-said.
I’ll admit to something that has always disturbed me – Aramis. As one of the original musketeers, I’d assumed he’d always be faithful and loyal. But in Twenty Years After, he’s playing his hand against the others, tight to his lacy chest. In the end of Vicomte, he’s actually misdirecting d’Artagnan, getting him to slog around marshes on a wild goose chase. And now he’s getting promoted to the general of the Jesuits. I guess that pains me, in that it’s a very realistic life-moment we all are familiar with, of the friend who is not really a friend, who moves after his own interests as the years roll by and damn your eyes. It’s sad. The fab four have always been seen as the embodiment of loyalty, and yet even this concept is tarnished.
But that’s not a bad thing. I can regret it and be sad about it, but it’s realistic and plot-worthy. So good to Dumas for including this character shift.
Anyway, let me say this – if you read The Vicomte of Bragelonne and are going to read Louise de la Vallière (and eventually The Man in the Iron Mask), you’ll need to pass across this desert. So sling your water-skins over your shoulder, don your shady hat, and strike out across the sands, literary traveler. You’ll need courage to get across this one.