Arturo Pérez-Reverte, internationally acclaimed author of The Flanders Panel, The Flanders Panel, The Club Dumas and The Seville Communion, returns with a literary page-turner set during the political turmoil of late-19th-century Spain. While friends and countrymen argue monarchical imperatives and plot bloody revolution, the courtly and chivalrous Don Jaime Astarloa remains blissfully disinterested in worldly affairs -- preferring to devote himself to the completion of his life's work, a Treatise on the Art of Fencing. But when a beautiful and mysterious young woman with an intriguing scar at the corner of her mouth asks Don Jaime to teach her the secret of the unstoppable sword thrust, he soon finds himself unwittingly drawn into a secret plot that involves seduction, politics, blackmail, and murder.
Perez-Reverte likes his heroes strong, his plots complex, even almost literary, and his women a little dangerous. Perez-Reverte's trick of creating a hero with the flaws of Astraloa might have been too much in a novel written in the United States. But part of the fun of Perez- Reverte's books is that the reader does not immediately identify with the heroes. They are built outside of stereotype. Here is the true art. Perez-Reverte leads us through this intellectual thriller with the rhythm of a fencing match: thrust, parry, feint; thrust, parry feint. We follow the ploys spectators able to spot the mistakes, the opportunities for the opponent, the fatal errors. Any by the end, we care about the honorable fencing master, a dying breed, the hero described at one point as the "only honest person I know. Miami Herald