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The Fencing Master

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In Madrid in 1868, fencing master and man of honor Don Jaime is approached by a mysterious woman who seeks to learn the unstoppable thrust, an arcane technique known only to him. All too soon he finds himself in the vortex of a plot that includes seduction, secret political documents, and more than one murder. Rich with historical detail of a decaying world that agonizes - In Madrid in 1868, fencing master and man of honor Don Jaime is approached by a mysterious woman who seeks to learn the unstoppable thrust, an arcane technique known only to him. All too soon he finds himself in the vortex of a plot that includes seduction, secret political documents, and more than one murder. Rich with historical detail of a decaying world that agonizes - as does the art of fencing itself - over the ideals of honor and chivalry, The Fencing Master is superb literature and a true page-turner.


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In Madrid in 1868, fencing master and man of honor Don Jaime is approached by a mysterious woman who seeks to learn the unstoppable thrust, an arcane technique known only to him. All too soon he finds himself in the vortex of a plot that includes seduction, secret political documents, and more than one murder. Rich with historical detail of a decaying world that agonizes - In Madrid in 1868, fencing master and man of honor Don Jaime is approached by a mysterious woman who seeks to learn the unstoppable thrust, an arcane technique known only to him. All too soon he finds himself in the vortex of a plot that includes seduction, secret political documents, and more than one murder. Rich with historical detail of a decaying world that agonizes - as does the art of fencing itself - over the ideals of honor and chivalry, The Fencing Master is superb literature and a true page-turner.

30 review for The Fencing Master

  1. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    This is my favourite of Perez-Reverte's books that I've read thus far. The stoic fencing maestro Jaime Astarloa is living out his remaining days of quiet desperation with a philosophical stiff upper lip as he watches the way of life he has devoted himself to fade into unlamented obscurity. Don Jaime spends his days teaching bratty aristocrats the art of the sword, an art they appear to no longer need or care about, and marking time with his few acquaintances in the Cafe Progresso; a sad group of This is my favourite of Perez-Reverte's books that I've read thus far. The stoic fencing maestro Jaime Astarloa is living out his remaining days of quiet desperation with a philosophical stiff upper lip as he watches the way of life he has devoted himself to fade into unlamented obscurity. Don Jaime spends his days teaching bratty aristocrats the art of the sword, an art they appear to no longer need or care about, and marking time with his few acquaintances in the Cafe Progresso; a sad group of older men watching their decline in disbelief, each a victim of their own inability to make anything meaningful of their lives. Into this quiet decline comes the unexpected appearance of a beautiful and mysterious woman, Adela de Otero, a veritable whirlwind of transformation whose request to learn from him the deadly "two hundred escudo thrust" plunges the hapless fencing master into a world of danger and intrigue quite at variance with his expectations for his sunset years, though not, perhaps, wholly against his secret wishes. The political turmoil and colour of 19th century Madrid is brought to vivid life by Perez-Reverte and Don Jaime's position as a virtual outsider within his own society make him an excellent viewpoint character for the reader. The poignant decline of Don Jaime, along with his perseverence despite the obstacles put before him, make him sympathetic despite his relatively cool nature. I really enjoyed reading this book and come back to it often to simply soak in the atmosphere so effectively created by Perez-Reverte. *** April 2012 re-read: Still love it. Don Jaime is a great character and Adela de Otero is almost worthy to be classed with Milady de Winter. Awesome sense of time and place as well and all wrapped up in a fairly unconventional swashbuckler. Also posted at Shelf Inflicted

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jokoloyo

    This book is my first read of Arturo Pérez-Reverte. I got this book from a second hand book and read it without much expectation. I was delighted that I find a good book without influenced by any review, or opinion of other people. I saw movie Scaramouche (1952), and how the protagonist defeated the antagonist by seeking fencing lessons from more senior fencing master. On this book, the main character is a senior fencing master, so seeing the story from a master of fencing POV is interesting. I w This book is my first read of Arturo Pérez-Reverte. I got this book from a second hand book and read it without much expectation. I was delighted that I find a good book without influenced by any review, or opinion of other people. I saw movie Scaramouche (1952), and how the protagonist defeated the antagonist by seeking fencing lessons from more senior fencing master. On this book, the main character is a senior fencing master, so seeing the story from a master of fencing POV is interesting. I was considering to rate this book between 3 or 4 star. I pick 3 star due to my personal taste: 1. The setting of the novel was at the dusk time of fencing as way for honor bound fighting, or self defence. This kind of setting usually makes me uncomfortably nervous due to my experience reading wuxia with the similar era. In wuxia fiction at the dusk of martial arts era, the martial arts hopelessly lost against guns and other new war technologies. This novel had similar spirit, the fencing pictured as an obsolete battle technique. 2. There was a scene when protagonist and his friends had a gathering. I saw the scene as a potential for a good teamwork sub-plot. But then, the story development went less than my expectation(view spoiler)[, the story was focusing only at the Fencing Master, meanwhile his friends had no important role in the story (hide spoiler)] .

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    So in this book I was presented with two subjects in which I was either woefully ignorant or totally clueless: the art of fencing and an 1868 Spanish overthrow of Queen Isabell II. I think my understanding would have been enhanced had I known more about fencing, so I was surprised to find myself deciding it didn't matter. While I understood some of the fencing terms generally, mostly I came to see the discipline required to excel and that it has a long tradition. This is overlaid upon the coming So in this book I was presented with two subjects in which I was either woefully ignorant or totally clueless: the art of fencing and an 1868 Spanish overthrow of Queen Isabell II. I think my understanding would have been enhanced had I known more about fencing, so I was surprised to find myself deciding it didn't matter. While I understood some of the fencing terms generally, mostly I came to see the discipline required to excel and that it has a long tradition. This is overlaid upon the coming chaos of a revolution. The above makes this sound boring, boring, boring, and it was just the opposite. Yes, the initial 75 or so pages left me wondering if fencing was going to be the sum total of the novel. I did not just hope that there would be more, but there was enough foreshadowing that I felt confident there would, indeed, be more. In what period of history might we find this to be untrue?Do you know what the problem is? We find ourselves in the last of the three generations history chooses to repeat every now and then. The first generation needs a god, and so they invent one. The second erects temples to that god and tries to imitate him. And the third uses the marble from those temples to build brothels in which to worship their own greed, lust and dishonesty. And that is why gods and heroes are always, inevitably, succeeded by mediocrity, cowards, and imbeciles.This is a very plot driven novel. As plot is not one of my primary reasons to read, I might find myself dismissing this as fluff. It is anything but. Prose is an important element to me and which I mention in nearly every review and in this it is good - not beautiful which would detract from the novel in this case, but good. True, I was reading a translation, but I think a translator rarely makes a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Surprisingly in a plot-driven novel was the very good characterization of the title character. The novel is told in third-person limited and so we come to know him intimately. As a thriller, I must withhold a 5-star rating because I want to save those for what I think of as more literary. That is my bias, and perhaps one day I'll be sorry for having it. Still, this is a solid 4-stars. I'm glad not only to have read it, but also that I have 2 other books by this author awaiting my attention.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Don Jaime Astarloa has two convictions. The first one is to be a man of honor. The second is the belief that fencing is the ultimate art. ”The pistol is not a weapon, it is an impertinence. If two men are to kill each other, they should do so face-to-face, not from a distance, like vile highwaymen.” Many people would describe Don Jaime as pompous with his old-fashioned believes. I think it only contributes to the feeling of a living character. Not everyone can be modern and interested in politic a Don Jaime Astarloa has two convictions. The first one is to be a man of honor. The second is the belief that fencing is the ultimate art. ”The pistol is not a weapon, it is an impertinence. If two men are to kill each other, they should do so face-to-face, not from a distance, like vile highwaymen.” Many people would describe Don Jaime as pompous with his old-fashioned believes. I think it only contributes to the feeling of a living character. Not everyone can be modern and interested in politic and gossip, even though it is Madrid, 1868, a time of turmoil. Some people are no doubt like Don Jaime, only interested in perserving certain values. ”I have spent my whole life trying to preserve a certain idea of myself, and that is all. You have to cling to a set of values that do not depreciate with time. Everything else is the fashion of the moment, fleeting, mutable. In a word, nonsense.” When Don Jaime, unwillingly, becomes involved in a complicated mystery and realizes someone is after him, he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. It is when a woman comes into his life that everything changes. The fact that he doesn’t teach women is according to custom of the time, a view he eventually realizes can be changed, as other men have. Soon, he looses himself. The picture of anguished produced by his feelings for Donna Adela de Otero is beautifully painted by Pérez-Reverte: ”He smiled, thinking about himself, about his own image, about his now declining powers, about his spirit, which, though old and tired, in some way was rebelling against the indolence imposed on it by the slow degeneration of his physical organism. And in that feeling overwhelming him, tempting him with its sweet danger, he recognized the feeble swan song proffered, as a pathetic, last-ditch rebellion, by his still-proud spirit.” Things start to happen around him and he, usually detached from the world and living only for fencing, is suddenly struggling with a feeling of foreboding, of something he should know but doesn’t and therefore could be dangerous. He refuses to give in to fear and challenges the danger. He whistles proudly while making coffee to be able to stay awake and wait for the comming strike of the unknown enemy. He even look up a few lines of a book he has underlined some years earlier. With some irony he leaves it open as ”the perfect epitaph”: ”Any moral character is closely bound up with scenes of autumn: those leaves that fall like our years, those flowers that fade like our hours, those clouds that flee like our illusions, that light that grows ever feebler like our intelligence, that sun that grows colder like our loves, those rivers that freeze over like our life, all weave secret bounds with our fate...” En garde! This isn’t just a mystery. It’s about a man that finally gets to put his long time art into real practice. His life is on the line and with a determined gaze and mocking sneer he undertakes the challenge. The whole mystery is like a duel with an enemy, and in the end, what could be better than the story getting summarized by a concrete one? Spoilers! Don Jaime thinks that a duel is an honorable way to die, but not in his own house, with a button on the tip of his foil, and with a woman as an opponent. That, he refuses! And what’s more, he’s not ready to die, because he’s not yet discovered the perfect thrust. Perhaps he finds it in the end.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Frink

    "The Fencing Master" by Arturo Perez-Reverte is a throwback to another time... in fact, even within the 1868 time setting of the story, the protagonist (a fencing master, go figure) is a throwback to another time, an era of pure honor and purer scruples. Of course, such an era has never existed, but within any moment there exist those Quixotic souls who live as if one might transcend the hungry groveling of politics, economics and sexuality. Such behavior may be fantasy, but in my opinion so are "The Fencing Master" by Arturo Perez-Reverte is a throwback to another time... in fact, even within the 1868 time setting of the story, the protagonist (a fencing master, go figure) is a throwback to another time, an era of pure honor and purer scruples. Of course, such an era has never existed, but within any moment there exist those Quixotic souls who live as if one might transcend the hungry groveling of politics, economics and sexuality. Such behavior may be fantasy, but in my opinion so are most poetic and religious concepts. Does this worry me? Not terribly. Anyone who has loved "Don Quixote," "The Lord of the Rings," "The Old Man and the Sea," (and so many more) will understand what I'm trying to describe: Only by keeping alive the illusions of perfection, trust, sacrifice and love -- only by deluding ourselves just a bit -- can we face the random Darwinian cruelties of existence. And in that sense, "The Fencing Master" is an existential story. One may not be able to effect change or impose codes of behavior upon the evolving whims and demands of human society, but one can choose to uphold those tenets in spite of the futility. I'm not certain what impresses me more about "The Fencing Master:" that the book is so good, or that Sr. Perez wrote it at age thirty-seven. Precocious fellow. (Hats off to Margaret Jull Costa for this exquisite translation from the original Spanish.)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Para (wanderer)

    Okay, first off: I went into this book with no great expectations. I picked it up on impulse, in a random kindle sale, intending to save it as light reading for the first time I go to the beach, whenever that will be. I knew I was probably the wrong audience and that there were likely to be things that'd piss me off, but whatever. Give me historical fiction about fencing and 19th century Spain. No need to be quality, just quick and readable. Well, today the day has come. And turns out that yes, i Okay, first off: I went into this book with no great expectations. I picked it up on impulse, in a random kindle sale, intending to save it as light reading for the first time I go to the beach, whenever that will be. I knew I was probably the wrong audience and that there were likely to be things that'd piss me off, but whatever. Give me historical fiction about fencing and 19th century Spain. No need to be quality, just quick and readable. Well, today the day has come. And turns out that yes, it pretty much lived up to those expectations - entertaining with a shit plot and more than a bit cliché. Which I was luckily more amused than irritated by. Still, I would not recommend it. The plot follows Jaime Astarloa, an aging fencing master in an era where fencing is becoming increasingly irrelevant because of guns. He's your usual crochety old man yelling at clouds - despairing that the great practical art of fencing is being reduced to a mere sport, grumbling about today's youth, loudly proclaiming that he doesn't care about politics ("I couldn't care less about the principle of equality [...] I can tell you I would rather be governed by a Caesar or Bonaparte"), imagining himself the last honourable man. In short, a staunch traditionalist. From how it was all written, we were meant to find him a tragic and sympathetic figure, but I could neither bring myself to take him seriously, observing the whole thing with...fascinated amusement, perhaps. Such a stereotype. I was cheering far more for two of the side characters, even if it was clear the narrator is not on their side - his friend Cárceles, a journalist and staunch revolutionary often monologuing about guillotines (very entertaining) and Adela, a young woman who wants to learn a fencing move near impossible to defend against. Her appearance was described at great male-gazey length, earning many an eye-roll (violet eyes!), but she was competent and awesome and I liked her a lot. I hoped the plot was not (view spoiler)[heading towards a romance with the old fencing master who sure seemed to be eyeing her a lot (hide spoiler)] . And indeed it was not. Unfortunately, it turned out worse. Imagine my disgust when in the end (view spoiler)[the guillotine guy was murdered and afterwards turned out to be a greedy traitor all along and the sword lady the femme fatale behind the murder plot, eventually attempting to seduce and/or rape the fencing master, then kill him. And naturally, foiled (pun intended) at the last moment (hide spoiler)] . Okay, in retrospect, I should have seen it coming. Still. Utter fucking bullshit, I say. It's always strange when you find yourself siding with other characters than the narrative or the author does. When a character is pushed as a sympathetic protagonist, but you find yourself drawn to anyone but. I didn't mind Jaime as such at all - I don't care if I relate to or agree with a character as long as they are interesting, which he was - but I did roll my eyes at how he was pushed as the protagonist who's obviously always in the right. And at the disservice done to Adela. Yes, I disagreed, and I would have liked it much more if the narrative didn't take sides - I'm not a conservative old man. Picking a kindle book at random has been a fun experiment, but now it's over, and I'd rather go back to books that treat female characters better. Perhaps fantasy has spoiled me. Am I pissed off? No. I didn't ever expect anything good to happen from the hints I got from the narrative. I knew it was going to be an old-school book, not aimed at me, with all the irritations that come with that. I just had to see just what type of trainwreck it will end in - and I won't lie, it read smooth and fast and remained amusing all the way through, even if not for the reasons the author intended. There was no disappointment, because I never expected it to be...anything other than what it was. But if anyone hyped it up, it would have undoubtedly ended in a wall toss. Funny how these things go. Enjoyment: 4/5 Execution: 2/5 Recommended to: idk, people looking for a shitty plot written in a somewhat entertaining way? Not recommended to: seriously, if you know me (and even if you don't) don't bother with it More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This one is quite simple and straight forward. I might recommend it for a young adult who likes adventure stories. I just felt like it gave into stereotypes and predictability a little too much. Perez-Reverte has something of an obsession with the Dark Lady character out to destroy the man in love with her. Nowhere is that more prominent than in this novel. Usually it's woven in enough that it doesn't bother me, but having read his other ones and then read this one? It just made me roll my eyes This one is quite simple and straight forward. I might recommend it for a young adult who likes adventure stories. I just felt like it gave into stereotypes and predictability a little too much. Perez-Reverte has something of an obsession with the Dark Lady character out to destroy the man in love with her. Nowhere is that more prominent than in this novel. Usually it's woven in enough that it doesn't bother me, but having read his other ones and then read this one? It just made me roll my eyes a little. Come on, Arturo, you're better at putting together plot threads than this. However: The mystery is good, the suspense is there, the dark writing is spooky and appropriate. It's a very quick, fun, easy read. And I still liked it, I would just read all the other ones by him first because they're that much better.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Don Jaime Astarloa is the one of the last of a noble, dying breed. As a master of the art of fencing, he lives his life by the rules of the blade, a code of conduct that centers around honorable swordsmanship and fair play. With modern weapons like the pistol gaining popularity, there is little interest in fencing, but Don Jaime is able to eke out a meager living teaching his art to the sons of the aristocracy. It is 1866, and Madrid is facing a storm of political upheaval as Queen Isabella II's Don Jaime Astarloa is the one of the last of a noble, dying breed. As a master of the art of fencing, he lives his life by the rules of the blade, a code of conduct that centers around honorable swordsmanship and fair play. With modern weapons like the pistol gaining popularity, there is little interest in fencing, but Don Jaime is able to eke out a meager living teaching his art to the sons of the aristocracy. It is 1866, and Madrid is facing a storm of political upheaval as Queen Isabella II's opponents prepare for a revolution. In the midst of these uncertain circumstances, a mysterious woman seeks out Don Jaime. Her name is Adela de Otero, and she desires to learn the art of the unstoppable thrust, an arcane swordplay technique known only to Don Jaime. It is his policy never to teach fencing to women, but when she offers him double his usual fee, it is an offer he can't refuse. Don Jaime soon learns that, in addition to being exquisitely beautiful, Adela de Otero is also a talented swordswoman, and a formidable opponent. She possesses a dangerous sort of attraction, and she soon begins to awaken in Don Jaime feelings that he thought he had long left behind in his old age. Before he knows it, he finds himself in over his head, unwittingly embroiled in a political intrigue with potentially dire consequences. After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Flanders Panel, I was expecting a lot from this book, and ended up feeling kind of let down. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy it, it just didn't live up to my full expectations. I really liked Don Jaime's character, as well as the femme fatale Adela de Otero. However, I felt that the plot was rather weak. The Big Important Political Secret ended up being sort of anticlimactic, and while the final battle between Don Jaime and the villain was exciting, it felt like the climax of the story was rather rushed. All in all, I think that probably sums up the major problem with the book...all of it feels like the author was in a hurry to get it over and done with. A lot of potentially interesting details and back story are glossed over without much explanation, and that frustrated me.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma

    A fairly good book. The story developed slowly but eventually picked up. The book tells tge story of a fencing master Don Jamie, one of the few, living in the civil war period. He is approached by a young seniorita, with in depth knowledge on the art of fencing. He reluctantly accepts her as her student. Soon after, another client of his is murdered. The Marquis, Don Luis, who dies just after becoming intimate with the seniorita. Other murders follow soon. Who is killing all these people? This i A fairly good book. The story developed slowly but eventually picked up. The book tells tge story of a fencing master Don Jamie, one of the few, living in the civil war period. He is approached by a young seniorita, with in depth knowledge on the art of fencing. He reluctantly accepts her as her student. Soon after, another client of his is murdered. The Marquis, Don Luis, who dies just after becoming intimate with the seniorita. Other murders follow soon. Who is killing all these people? This is what this book is about.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Vonia

    The reason I will remember this novel; the aspect that further adds to its mystique and suapensful quality is the author's extensive and obviously erudite knowledge regarding the ancient art of fencing. From the history of the antiquated sport in Spain to its development into the Italian, French, and German schools of fencing, from the classical to modern styles, from the most sophisticated positions to the times most opportune in parrying, the behind-the-scenes glimpse was truly remarkable. The The reason I will remember this novel; the aspect that further adds to its mystique and suapensful quality is the author's extensive and obviously erudite knowledge regarding the ancient art of fencing. From the history of the antiquated sport in Spain to its development into the Italian, French, and German schools of fencing, from the classical to modern styles, from the most sophisticated positions to the times most opportune in parrying, the behind-the-scenes glimpse was truly remarkable. The story however, was not well paced. It was not until page 150 / 250 that the murder around which the narrative centers even takes place. The story began quite slow, then came the sandwiched fifty pages of page-turning intrigue, ending with a predictable final scene. Twists? A few. But not enough to outweigh the other mundane scenes. Don Jaime (Astarola) spends his days teaching a select few students in the fading classical French style fencing. Now middle-aged, he has accepted his fate as a lonely but satisfied man, having worked his way up in his career, coming from nothing but paying his dues to be taught by the greatest fencing master in his days; in his personal life, he left everything he knew in Paris over a broken heart- the only woman he ever loved. Until now. Enter Señora (Adela) de Otero, a young, beautiful, but secretive and mysterious woman whom personally requests his services. In those days, women simply did not fence, let alone request mentorship at such skill levels. Despite his adamant refusals, the Señora is able to seduce her way into lessons (offering double his typical two-hundred-escuedo fee, but mostly by physical and sexual methods). She soon shows herself to be a most formidable opponent. Her mentor agrees to teach her his "two-hundred-escuedo thrust", one he invented that is rumored to be impossible to parry. Not long after, she ceases her lessons with him. Following her disappearance from Don Jaime's life, she disappears from Madrid altogether- coinciding in time with more than one murder, undeniably linked. The key to all the secrets and murders, the betrayals and deaths, is political in nature. (Not a theme I am especially enamored with.) It all ends with a middle-of-the-night heated, close-quarters fencing battle. Of course. In the place where it all began- where Don Jaime provided his lessons to the beautiful, seductive, murdering, lying Señora Adela de Otero. Of course. She tried to use the two-hundred-escuedo thrust he taught her to finish him. Of course. Who wins? Fill in the blanks. The fascinating vernacular from the world of fencing, the life-of-intrigue mood, the historical, sophisticated setting, the magic of a story transcending time and space. It was worth it. Probably.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    I originally discovered Arturo Perez-Reverte through Johnny Depp’s film The Ninth Gate (based on Perez-Reverte’s book The Club Dumas). I was quickly enamored with his writing, which is fluid, descriptive, and intrinsically character based. My only complaint with The Club Dumas was the ending. I felt that Perez-Reverte had failed to give enough attention to completing his antiquarian book thriller, leaving the reader wanting for a better conclusion. When I picked up The Fencing Master, I expected I originally discovered Arturo Perez-Reverte through Johnny Depp’s film The Ninth Gate (based on Perez-Reverte’s book The Club Dumas). I was quickly enamored with his writing, which is fluid, descriptive, and intrinsically character based. My only complaint with The Club Dumas was the ending. I felt that Perez-Reverte had failed to give enough attention to completing his antiquarian book thriller, leaving the reader wanting for a better conclusion. When I picked up The Fencing Master, I expected a repeat of The Club Dumas — fantastic style with a disappointing finish. To my surprise, Perez-Reverte pulled together a much more satisfying story with a conclusion that was far tidier than the previous novel. Set against the backdrop of the 1868 Spanish Revolution, Perez-Reverte gives us an extremely sympathetic main character in Don Jaime Astarloa, an aging fencing master who is witnessing the demise of not only his profession but his code of ethics as well. It’s the internal machinations of Don Jaime that drive the novel and gives this story a convincing tone. Like The Club Dumas, The Fencing Master is well written, leisurely paced, and thick with vivid descriptions. As in the former novel, Perez-Reverte makes use of a fairly obscure profession to draw the reader into a realistic, yet commonly unknown world. There are times, however, when Perez-Reverte seems to spend too much space on secondary characters. Don Jaime’s set of café companions, for example, add little value to the overall story. Even though one of these characters plays prominently later in the story, the numerous scenes with this handful of eccentrics merely drag the plot unnecessarily. Nonetheless, this one minor complaint is nothing compared to the loosely pulled together ending of The Club Dumas, giving The Fencing Master a far more entertaining aftertaste. Even though I enjoyed the previous novel (and the movie it spawned), if asked, I’d have to recommend The Fencing Master to anyone interested in Perez-Reverte’s work.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emily Selleck

    There are a couple of reasons this isn't getting one star. The first is the writing. I will admit that there were moments that the writing in this book was beautiful and I have to give the author credit where credit is due. The other is my understanding that a lot of my dissatisfaction with the story has to do with the fact that I am not a Spanish native. It is my understanding that this book was written by a native of Spain and translated (quite well, I might add) into English. So the reference There are a couple of reasons this isn't getting one star. The first is the writing. I will admit that there were moments that the writing in this book was beautiful and I have to give the author credit where credit is due. The other is my understanding that a lot of my dissatisfaction with the story has to do with the fact that I am not a Spanish native. It is my understanding that this book was written by a native of Spain and translated (quite well, I might add) into English. So the references to Spanish historical events and people that I didn't understand and therefore found distracting, are probably common knowledge to many Spanish citizens and added to the story for them rather than detracted. But then we come to the story itself. I didn't have a problem with the main character, the fencing master. He was, quite frankly, the only interesting, multilayered character in the whole book. I found the other characters (especially the "femme fatale") to be one dimensional and unbelievable, when I could keep the characters straight that is. The plot was flat and predictable. (view spoiler)[Honestly, the best part was when the maestro stabbed the woman through the eye at the end. I will gladly admit to punching the air with a triumphant whoop when that happened ;) (hide spoiler)] The glimpses into the maestro's past were far more interesting to me than the action happening in "the present" and honestly THAT'S the book I'd like to read :P Overall, this book was a chore to get through, but I powered through it because it was short and occasionally had glimmers of hope in the pretty prose and the main character, but these were well overshadowed by the many problems with the plot and other characters. Take from that, what you will :)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Margarida

    This was my first ever Arturo Pérez-Reverte book (and my Spanish one in a long time). It is about a fence teacher who lives in Madrid in the XIX century and who sees himself in a middle of a political scandal and serial killers performed by a foil. In the beginning the plot seems cliche and old but then the reader is pleasantly surprised by a twist that changes it all. I really liked this novel. I thought it was very well written, the atmosphere was perfect and the characters interesting. If you This was my first ever Arturo Pérez-Reverte book (and my Spanish one in a long time). It is about a fence teacher who lives in Madrid in the XIX century and who sees himself in a middle of a political scandal and serial killers performed by a foil. In the beginning the plot seems cliche and old but then the reader is pleasantly surprised by a twist that changes it all. I really liked this novel. I thought it was very well written, the atmosphere was perfect and the characters interesting. If you are looking for a good Spanish novel and don’t know where to start, this is the one.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Moore

    I loved the tension, emotions, and relationships in this novel. The author creates a story that drops you into a culture where strength of mind and will are pitted against training, skill, and talent with a sword.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bob Newman

    Spanish Swordsman Saves Self, Skewers Sexpot Ascetic and as otherwordly as Zatoichi or a samurai played by Mifune Toshiro, Don Jaime Astarloa inhabits a narrow world of fencing and honor, remote from the corrupt, crumbling society of 1860s Spain around him. Nevertheless, the aging maestro, who adheres to a code of honor and behavior that seems to be totally out of date, is plunged into a world of intrigue and spies, assassins and purloined letters after a visit from a mysterious young woman. She Spanish Swordsman Saves Self, Skewers Sexpot Ascetic and as otherwordly as Zatoichi or a samurai played by Mifune Toshiro, Don Jaime Astarloa inhabits a narrow world of fencing and honor, remote from the corrupt, crumbling society of 1860s Spain around him. Nevertheless, the aging maestro, who adheres to a code of honor and behavior that seems to be totally out of date, is plunged into a world of intrigue and spies, assassins and purloined letters after a visit from a mysterious young woman. She persuades the reluctant "men only" fencing teacher to take her on as his fencing student. She turns out to be extremely competent and wins his (platonic)love. He introduces her to another of his pupils, a philandering marquis. She becomes that gad-about's lover and disappears. One day, the marquis turns up dead of a sword thrust through the jugular vein. That's when this thriller really gets into high gear. The plot takes a few twists and turns before the final denouement, which of course is a duel. The book is populated by a set of believable characters in 19th century Madrid, living in a well-described atmosphere of plot, rumors of coups and coups as Spain tried to shrug off its age-old absolute monarchy and strong man rule to emerge into the age of democracy that was sweeping the rest of Europe. The minor characters argue the politics of the day very well. If you get confused, that's because those were confusing times ! At first, the book drags a bit. I was wondering where the "suspense" advertised on the cover had gone. But persevere, this is a well-written thriller which will keep you turning the pages right to the last one even if there are far too many unexplained fencing terms for at least one reader. As literature on the world stage, this is a three star book, though the writing style is quite stylish. That's why I've given it three. But as a thriller in the smaller world of thrillers, I'd venture to say it deserves five stars. If you're a fan of that genre--I'm not really---then you'll definitely like THE FENCING MASTER. Myself, I prefer novels to be different from Clint Eastwood movies or samurai films.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Roger

    I've enjoyed the Captain Alatriste series Arturo Perez-Reverte has written. The Fencing Master is a standalone novel whose action takes place in Madrid in 1868. The fencing master in question is Don Jaime-he lives in a sort of sacred bubble of rectitude and honor, and his involvement with the world around him is minimal. He teaches a few students to support himself and remains essentially oblivious to the politics and intrigue of the day, despite being surrounded by it. This hermetic existence c I've enjoyed the Captain Alatriste series Arturo Perez-Reverte has written. The Fencing Master is a standalone novel whose action takes place in Madrid in 1868. The fencing master in question is Don Jaime-he lives in a sort of sacred bubble of rectitude and honor, and his involvement with the world around him is minimal. He teaches a few students to support himself and remains essentially oblivious to the politics and intrigue of the day, despite being surrounded by it. This hermetic existence cannot last, of course. Perez-Reverte writes (as always) in a very engaging way-there is something about the active voice he employs which makes you want to accompany Don Jamie on his journey. It does take a while for the book to get cooking, however the payoff is worth it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Edualvord

    A mi

  18. 4 out of 5

    Matthew D.

    A guy on my fencing team lent this to me. I thought it was pretty interesting for the most part. I don't really know how much sense some of it would make to someone who doesn't already know about fencing, but the main plot is still pretty engaging. A guy on my fencing team lent this to me. I thought it was pretty interesting for the most part. I don't really know how much sense some of it would make to someone who doesn't already know about fencing, but the main plot is still pretty engaging.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kayla Montgomery

    Slow start and at first wasn't convinced I would finish this book. But, continued reading and got caught up in admiring the main character, his adherence to an honor code and fencing art that was not in step with the times and the intrigue with which he eventually became unwillingly involved. A sad undoing but marvelous tale. Ended up loving the story. Slow start and at first wasn't convinced I would finish this book. But, continued reading and got caught up in admiring the main character, his adherence to an honor code and fencing art that was not in step with the times and the intrigue with which he eventually became unwillingly involved. A sad undoing but marvelous tale. Ended up loving the story.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jose

    Somehow, I didn't enjoy it. Maybe too slow, and I only engaged with the book in the last part, when the hidden plot unravels. Somehow, I didn't enjoy it. Maybe too slow, and I only engaged with the book in the last part, when the hidden plot unravels.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Gaspar

    I read this book in Spanish. This is the fourth Perez Reverte book I've read and once again he doesn't dissapoint. His writing is more in line with English/American authors than with traditional Spanish ones. In this book the author is more instrospective and develops the character of the protagonist in precise detail. You get to appreciate him for what he is, even if you don't completely agree with him. A lot of historical references regarding Spain can make it a little confusing if you do wish I read this book in Spanish. This is the fourth Perez Reverte book I've read and once again he doesn't dissapoint. His writing is more in line with English/American authors than with traditional Spanish ones. In this book the author is more instrospective and develops the character of the protagonist in precise detail. You get to appreciate him for what he is, even if you don't completely agree with him. A lot of historical references regarding Spain can make it a little confusing if you do wish to keep track of all of it, but if you don't, it moves along quite well. The book has very little dialogue and you get to live the journey through the protagonist eyes. The antagonist is quite evil although in a beautiful disguise, so, it's not too complicated to really see what is going to happen. In the end, it is the narrative that makes this trip worth the time.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    I enjoyed this, but I've never been terribly huge on long discourses on politics and the first half of this book really suffers from the characters discussing politics...a lot. That combined with a lot of technical fencing passages and I wasn't sure if I'd actually enjoy this, and I've actually practiced fencing but even understanding the terms and scenes I still was a bit bored by the technicalities. It took about half the novel for the murder to actually occur, and things really got interesting I enjoyed this, but I've never been terribly huge on long discourses on politics and the first half of this book really suffers from the characters discussing politics...a lot. That combined with a lot of technical fencing passages and I wasn't sure if I'd actually enjoy this, and I've actually practiced fencing but even understanding the terms and scenes I still was a bit bored by the technicalities. It took about half the novel for the murder to actually occur, and things really got interesting after that. Don Jaime was an interesting character to follow as he tried to discover the truth behind the conspiracy. The mystery was pretty easy to solve, but even though I figured out how it would end early on I still did enjoy the actual process of the characters discovering it on their own.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Good, but not great. Perhaps if I knew more about Spanish history in the mid to late 1800s, I would not have had to read so slowly to figure out who was doing what. Was surprised to see it was written in 1988. Had the literary style of an earlier era - rather liked that! However, not being interested in the details of fencing, I skipped over the many descriptions of the techniques. Also, I felt that only the characters of Don Jaime and Adela de Otero were developed enough to come alive. Because Good, but not great. Perhaps if I knew more about Spanish history in the mid to late 1800s, I would not have had to read so slowly to figure out who was doing what. Was surprised to see it was written in 1988. Had the literary style of an earlier era - rather liked that! However, not being interested in the details of fencing, I skipped over the many descriptions of the techniques. Also, I felt that only the characters of Don Jaime and Adela de Otero were developed enough to come alive. Because she is supposed to be a woman of mystery, I feel it is all right that there actually is not much about Adela. However, I was totally confused by the fencing master's friends at the cafe. Turns out it was very important that readers know more about their character - especially one. Don't recall where I read rave reviews of this slight novel. Anyhow, I was disappointed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Romy

    The Fencing Master was an interesting story of Don Jaime, a fencing expert and teacher who is approached by a beautiful young woman interested in learning a difficult move he created. He refuses at first, as he finds the idea of teaching a woman to fence inappropriate in his old-fashioned world view. She finally convinces him and he discovers she is quite a talented fencer. As the story unfolds, he is drawn into a complicated web of events. The author paints a vivid picture of 19th century Spain The Fencing Master was an interesting story of Don Jaime, a fencing expert and teacher who is approached by a beautiful young woman interested in learning a difficult move he created. He refuses at first, as he finds the idea of teaching a woman to fence inappropriate in his old-fashioned world view. She finally convinces him and he discovers she is quite a talented fencer. As the story unfolds, he is drawn into a complicated web of events. The author paints a vivid picture of 19th century Spain and the honorable, old-fashioned fencing master. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the storyline. The story takes place amongst a backdrop of the political situation of the time. I wasn't as interested in this political background, but then again, neither was Don Jaime. Overall, an enjoyable read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    KC Anton

    Pe`rez-Reverte describes historical people and actions in a very down-to-earth way in Spain of the late 1860's. We see Old World and New century changes in war, politics, and romance from the Fencing Master's aged point of view. Realizing he is from a world of honor and tradition you gain the stylized view of life as a game or fencing tradition—which has rules. The problem; life has no rules. The story starts slowly, as does life, and ends quickly, passionately, and possibly with no more meaning Pe`rez-Reverte describes historical people and actions in a very down-to-earth way in Spain of the late 1860's. We see Old World and New century changes in war, politics, and romance from the Fencing Master's aged point of view. Realizing he is from a world of honor and tradition you gain the stylized view of life as a game or fencing tradition—which has rules. The problem; life has no rules. The story starts slowly, as does life, and ends quickly, passionately, and possibly with no more meaning then you started with. This book takes some chapters to get into and then does not let you out in the last 5 chapters or so. Good if you can wait that long.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    You'd think I'd love historical fiction or fiction with a strong historical bent, but that would often not be the case, although occasionally I do find a really good one. In the case of this novel, I knew so little about the Spanish Glorious Revolution against Isabel II that many of the references and individuals simply didn't mean much to me, and I am really not all that interested in the minutia of fencing. Further still I found the story a tad predictable, though there were some very good lin You'd think I'd love historical fiction or fiction with a strong historical bent, but that would often not be the case, although occasionally I do find a really good one. In the case of this novel, I knew so little about the Spanish Glorious Revolution against Isabel II that many of the references and individuals simply didn't mean much to me, and I am really not all that interested in the minutia of fencing. Further still I found the story a tad predictable, though there were some very good lines, and the story was interesting enough to keep me engaged and want to come to a conclusion. Perez-Reverte is a fine writer, though I prefer Zafon. Many will enjoy this tale.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Saha

    This is a text book example of how to craft a captivating mystery novel as sparingly as it should be. There's little in the book that is padding or noise, no pointless sub-plots, no self indulgent waffle, no technically flawed techno-babble, no tedious endless descriptions of things of little importance. The story is as sharp and precise as the Fencing Master's rapier thrust, with every word key to the development of the story. It's an insightful accounting of the 'out of time' Fencing Master's This is a text book example of how to craft a captivating mystery novel as sparingly as it should be. There's little in the book that is padding or noise, no pointless sub-plots, no self indulgent waffle, no technically flawed techno-babble, no tedious endless descriptions of things of little importance. The story is as sharp and precise as the Fencing Master's rapier thrust, with every word key to the development of the story. It's an insightful accounting of the 'out of time' Fencing Master's friends, acquaintances, clients, and a brewing Spanish Revolution, and quite a touching story about an idealistic and lonely man trying to deal with the onset of old age.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    I unfortunately wished for far more from this book than I received. I have difficulty with books in which the historical aspect seems more shoe horned in than organically placed. I also, despite finding it interesting at the start, found my attention waning as I could so easily predict what would happen next at each turn. It was almost as if Perez-Reverte wanted to write a book about fencing but, unsure of how to do so, figured a flimsy mystery with very low stakes would suffice. Or, perhaps mor I unfortunately wished for far more from this book than I received. I have difficulty with books in which the historical aspect seems more shoe horned in than organically placed. I also, despite finding it interesting at the start, found my attention waning as I could so easily predict what would happen next at each turn. It was almost as if Perez-Reverte wanted to write a book about fencing but, unsure of how to do so, figured a flimsy mystery with very low stakes would suffice. Or, perhaps more accurately, it reads like a novel waiting to be fleshed out into something far more interesting.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    This was mediocre, at best. Very nice use of language but the plot was horribly dull with a disappointing outcome. If this was supposed to have the added benefit of convincing people that good things come out of European literature, it was a failure. Better that they stick to Simenon for short thrillers or detective stories and leave this sort of stuff on the shelf.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andy Weston

    Tremendous fun - my previous Perez-Reverte was The Dumas Club - somewhat complicated and needed a lot of concentration - at least for me. This is much lighter - swashbuckling stuff - characterised by this quote for Don Jamie - "We can hardly object if two men insist on killing each other over a point of honour, can we? But we can at least demand that they do it in the politest way possible." Tremendous fun - my previous Perez-Reverte was The Dumas Club - somewhat complicated and needed a lot of concentration - at least for me. This is much lighter - swashbuckling stuff - characterised by this quote for Don Jamie - "We can hardly object if two men insist on killing each other over a point of honour, can we? But we can at least demand that they do it in the politest way possible."

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