“Captain” Alatriste is an ex-soldier in 17th Century Madrid who scratches out a living via odd jobs and spends part of his time gabbing and drinking at a local bar. An old “friend” tosses him a job which is initially to scare a pair of English travelers but turns out to be a contract for murder.
Thus this novel starts, seemingly inauspiciously. But as things progress we learn more about Alatriste’s character, Madrid society, 17th Century European politics, religious and political intrigue, Spanish cultural navel-gazing, and the intrigues of royalty.
There’s not a lot of swordplay but the novel skillfully sets up the characters for further adventures and sequels, which I intend to read. As with the same author’s The Nautical Chart, the translation seems a bit flat. Still, this is an enjoyable read.