Arturo Perez-Reverte's "Purity of Blood" is second in the Captain Alatriste series of historical adventure novels, currently a 5-volume series of books which began publication in Spain in the mid 1990s. The books follow the adventures of Captain Alatriste and his adolescent protege Inigo Balboa as they swashbuckler their way through 17th-century Spain. The Alatriste books are obviously aimed closer to the commercial market than much of Perez-Reverte's other work, evoking associations as they do with "The Three Musketeers" or Johnston McCulley's Zorro stories. "Purity of Blood" is set against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition. During one of Alatriste's adventures, he and his companions fall into a trap and young Inigo--framed as a "Judaizer"--falls afoul of the Inquisition.
The book does have its good moments, such as the scene in which Alatriste, trying to find some way to rescue Inigo, confronts a most powerful politician, a bureaucrat at first disinclined to give them any aid. Pushed to desperation, Alatriste, usually a quiet, stoic man, delivers a monologue in which we see the undeniable potency of melodrama:
"'Excellency. I have nothing but the sword I live by and my record of service, which means nothing to anyone.' The captain spoke very slowly, as if thinking aloud more than addressing the first minister of two worlds. 'Neither am I a man of many words or resources. But they are going to burn an innocent lad whose father, my comrade, died fighting in those wars that are as much the king's as they are yours. Perhaps I, and Lope Balboa, and Balboa's son, do not tip the scale that Your Excellency so rightly mentioned. Yet one never knows what twists and turns life will take, nor whether one day the full reach of a good blade will not be more beneficial than all the papers and all the notaries and all the royal seals in the world. If you help the orphan of one of your soldiers, I give you my word that on such a day you can count on me.'"
Unfortunately, the elements of plot and character in "Purity of Blood" take a seat at the far back of this bus, a bus clearly driven by the story's mise-en-scene. Essentially, the novel is all about its historical milieu--an excuse for the author to recreate the Spanish Inquisition and emphasize the gross anti-Semitism of the era. Thus, the novel comes off sounding more like an anthropology experiment, a modernist morality tale. And the story's meager adventuring suffers for this. The trouble here is very well demonstrated in a line of narrative late in the novel, a line that illuminates Perez-Reverte's racial guilt and his gaudy, off-putting, public self-flagellation: "It seemed that to be lucid and Spanish would forever be coupled with great bitterness and little hope."