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Parbleu! Morbleu! Corboeuf! Ma foi! Mordioux! Not to mention Cordieu! (I think they are variations of OMG).I usually prefer to know as little as possible about the book I am about to read, including avoid reading the synopsis, or if I have read the synopsis in order to decide whether to read the book I try to forget it (and do very well in the forgetting department, there is a character in this book called M. Fouquet, a name I would like to adopt for future social media shenanigans). Anyway, sometimes this policy backfires. I thought The Man in the Iron Mask was the final volume of The DArtagnan Romances, alas I was only one third right, The Man in the Iron Mask is the final part of a much longer book, The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later. However, it is the best known part and published in the UK separately as a separate book. This means that I missed out on quite a lot of backstory and plot developments. Fortunately, The Man in the Iron Mask can be read without much difficulty outside of its parent book. You should, however, at least read The Three Musketeers first. Anyway, by the time I realized my mistake I was already well into the book and I didn’t feel like backtracking.The Man in the Iron Mask is set thirty-five years after The Three Musketeers. In that first book of The DArtagnan Romances, D’Artagnan was something of a young cocky upstart musketeer, in this book he is in his fifties and the renowned captain of the kings musketeers. His three ex-musketeer BFFs, Aramis, Porthos and Athos, are also of advancing years and living lives of luxury. None of these three are working for King Louis XIV, not having much of a taste for this king who—from his playboy-like behavior—seems unworthy of their services and loyalty. In fact, Aramis is so unimpressed that he elaborately plots to replace Louise with his identical twin brother Philippe, his plan goes smoothly up to a point, the king is put in prison at Bastille and secretly replaced with Philippe. Unfortunately, he then makes the fatal error of confiding in Superintendent M. Fouquet, who, as a stick in the mud an honorable man, refuses to allow the rightful king to be treated so shabbily. Fouquet goes off to rescue Louis XIV from Bastille, while Aramis makes a run for it, accompanied by poor, trusting Porthos, his unwitting coconspirator. Looking like Leonardo DiCaprio the king is not always a good thing.You may be thinking I am spoiling the book terribly with the above summary but The Man in the Iron Mask is so densely plotted I have barely scratched the surface of the entire plot. It is not surprising that Dumas was so popular and remains so to this day, the man really knew how to write a fast pace narrative when he wants to, this book is stuffed to the gills with action and intrigues. The scene of D’Artagnan chasing M. Fouquet on horseback is particularly hair-raising, and the conclusion of the chase confounded my expectations. There are several other scenes of similar intensity, but, for me, this one is the most badass. Dumas’ skill with character development is remarkable. His main characters are all lively, vibrant and believable. Of the original three musketeers the only real mover and shaker is Aramis, who is too clever and ambitious for his own good. His ingenious subterfuges and elaborate schemes are both audacious and hilarious in execution. Porthos is his lovable, not too bright, faithful sidekick who follows him blindly to his own detriment; as for Athos, he does not have much to do in the narrative except growing old and sad. The series’ hero, D’Artagnan, is loyal to the king to a fault, he would carry out the kings orders even if he knows them to be wrong and that innocents will suffer. However, he finally draws the line at killing any of his Three Musketeers friends. The Man in the Iron Mask is much darker in tone than The Three Musketeers. Several good characters come to a bad end through no fault of their own. Philippe’s fate is particularly miserable (though there is no real evidence that the real historical mysterious Man in the Iron Mask is in anyway related to the king). While the book is a great read, I believe it suffers a bit from being serialized. As authors of serialized books are paid by the word it often cause them to overwrite (hello Mr. Dickens!). Dumas overwrote some parts which drag on unnecessarily, and some of the subplots do not really go anywhere, and have little relationship to the main storyline. Still, the book kept my interest throughout. The writing is a thing of beauty though the dialogue is over elaborate at times.It has been decades since I read The Three Musketeers (this is my first reading of The Man in the Iron Mask) and it makes me want to reread it soon.Notes:• Fabulous Librivox free audio book, read by Mark F. Smith. Amazing job! Different character voices, and narrated with plenty of passion and enthusiasm. Thank you so much!• I always thought the title of The Three Musketeers was something of a misnomer, as the book was about four of them; though it could be argued that it is really about DArtagnan’s encounter and friendship with them. However, The Man in the Iron Mask is even more of a misnomer because the eponymous Man (poor Phillippe) is barely in the narrative, and by the second half of the book Dumas seems to have lost interest in him. I have no idea who to credit for the translation of this public domain edition. It seems very good in term of conveying the story, whether it is a good translation of Dumas’ original text I am not in a position to evaluate. Quotes:“Then if you wish me to tell what crime I have committed, explain to me in what a crime consists. For as my conscience does not accuse me, I aver that I am not a criminal.”“M. Mouston, whose personal corpulency, quite enough at any time to hide one man from another, was effectually doubled by a scarlet coat which the intendant was holding up for his masters inspection, by the sleeves, that he might the better see it all over.”“DArtagnan recoiled, as though the sesquipedalian syllables had knocked the breath out of his body.”Driven insane by his undeserved incarceration, Philippe sayz Come On Feel The Noize!

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