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En garde! 

The Three Musketeers is one of those books which everyone knows, and the famous quote ‘all for one, and one for all’ is no stranger to most of us.

With a book so well known, it’s quite easy to form strong preconceptions, sometimes so strong that it seems pointless to actually read the text. I put off reading this one for a long time, but after languishing on my bookcase for three years, The Three Musketeers has been moved out of my to-read pile.

And I enjoyed it.

The three star review has a tendency to connote that the book is a bit naff, but really I do think this one is worth reading, mostly because there are few books like it.

Displays of affection between straight men are such a rare phenomenon in literature that there is something delightfully refreshing about a book revolving around platonic scenes.

This is a book about the love between four men. It is the bond between young D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis which gives this book its charm. It’s about being young, brave, and part of a team. And of course, the musketeers have not reached the heights of fame without their individual merits.

Honourable, impulsive D’Artagnan is our protagonist, and his story is an archetypal coming of age, mostly based around the harsh realities of big city life compared to the dreams of a country boy.

And then we have Athos, the father figure of the cohort. Serious and brooding, Athos is a true leader and gentleman.

Porthos is the lovable fool, providing comedic elements to the story with his disastrous love life and finances.

And last there is suave, secretive Aramis, my personal favourite.

Truth be told, the majority of the characters in this book are strong, but it is the musketeers who make it, together with the diabolical Milady de Winter.

I won’t dwell on it long, but Milady is, for me, fantastic. The ultimate femme fatale, she embodies the phrase ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ I think her main strength as a character is that Milady doesn’t do her own dirty work. As nasty as she inherently is, Milady is also admirably clever and manipulative, making her a fully drawn and compelling menace for our heroes to face.

So why not five stars?

My reasons are the result of personal taste, I’ll admit, and stem from the book’s ending chapters.

I went in with expectations. They were not particularly grand or sweeping, but they did have me quite convinced of the sort of book I was going to get. The ending of this novel was something quite different to what I had anticipated.

Despite all its glamour and romance, The Three Musketeers is fundamentally a very sad novel. Without going into detail, all I can say is that there are no real happy endings. The concluding chapters are miserable, and miserable without the redemptive poetry of a tragedy. To me, it seemed awfully hollow, more than anything.

Also, I’m not sure about Dumas’ writing style. His prose is clever and witty, but it reads like a hot pudding – it’s rather sticky and spongy, and you really have to sink your teeth into it. In small doses, it’s delightful, but it does make the six hundred odd pages something of a challenge for the casual reader.

To conclude: Certainly worth a go, but not quite what the films make it seem.

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