Book Reviews: Big Daddy Dumas 120 Years Late

We’ve been getting a lot of investigative hits from the new crop of Viable Paradise workshoppers. Welcome, VP XIV. Break a leg!

And no, there is no documented account of Thursday night. Wonder and hope. Wonder and hope.

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I mentioned that I read a lot on the Readercon trip. Hey, what are you looking at? I DID write too, you know!

You might have noticed that I had Alexander “Big Daddy” Dumas’ book The Last Chevalier up as what I was reading for a while. It was a long book with a huge prologue.

The background: In 2007, Dumas’ Napoleon novel was discovered after a scholar pulled together some hints about a missing Dumas’ serial. It plugged in the hole of Dumas’ romantic history of France quite tidily. The manuscript was sought out, pulled together and released in France very quickly after. In the US, we received the translation in 2009.

So, how was it?

The important thing, the important thing about Dumas is to remember you’re reading Dumas. It’s a lot like reading Dickens. The fiction is very much a creature of another time, and you have incredible coincidences, convenient death, and trapped gender roles. As a reader, I can usually get around this stuff, analyzing in the climate of the times. I had a bit of trouble with this book. More on that to come…

So, how good was this book? Dumas’ best book was The Count of Monte Cristo. It is the most psychological of the books, and easily accessible to the modern reader. There are features of interesting psychology in many of his books. The Musketeer cycle is a rollicking tour-de-force, but it also focuses on friendships and relationships at its core.

What to make of The Last Chevalier? The book seems to have three parts. The first part is a well-written account of Napoleon’s paranoia, deftly and justly dealt with by the author.

The second part loses me. It is our hero Saint-Hermine’s hunting exploits. Saint-Hermine, a royalist, has run afoul of the government, but has been spared and sent to live out his life in exile as a common soldier, so he takes a great journey. He saves women from savages and kills a lot of wild life, which shows you he’s a man’s man in the early 19th century, but I have to admit, doesn’t do much for me. I feel for him in the first part of the book, but not so much in the second.

The third part seems, sadly, that Dumas is trying to outrace his death. He cursorily deals with Nelson and the resounding French defeat, inserting Saint-Hermine into the battle quite poorly. There is no end to the book.

If you are a hard core Dumas reader, you can’t miss The Last Chevalier. However, if you’re looking for the reason why modern readers read Dumas, you’d best look out the books I’ve mentioned earlier. I’m glad I did it, because I can say I did.

Happy reading!

Catherine

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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