Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas
I loved The Three Musketeers. While the pace of a serialized novel is very different than a traditional novel—think of it more like a television series than anything else—I love the swashbuckling, friendship, and bitter sweetness that characterizes that novel. Luckily, it has sequels. The most famous is The Man in the Iron Mask, which is actually just part of the third installment in The D’Artagnan Romances, but the true sequel is Twenty Years After. And I have to read series in order, which brings us to this novel.
Twenty Years After picks up, well, twenty years after the events of The Three Musketeers. The four friends have gone their separate ways, but their chosen paths haven’t worked out the way they thought—D’Artagnan is still just a lieutenant in the musketeers, Porthos’ fantastic estate is a little sour without the actual aristocracy, Aramis finds he wants exactly what he used to have now that he’s an abbe, and only Athos is actually satisfied with his lot, which includes his adopted son, Raoul. But when revolt and civil war threaten Paris, the Queen and Cardinal Mazarin (Richelieu’s successor) summon the four once more in action, but the four musketeers, now politically divided, find themselves in more danger than could ever be imagined.
Oh, Dumas, I love you, but your pacing… well, let me be fair. The D’Artagnan Romances are enormous books; the third installment, The Vicomte of Bragelonne, is so huge that it’s usually published in at least three different volumes (hence the ability to read just The Man in the Iron Mask). Add to that the fact that it’s a serialized novel, having been published in installments over eight months. It’s not meant to be read all at once. But that has never stopped me before; in fact, I powered through this to get to a digital galley that turned out to have been already published, making it a useless effort. (Man, NetGalley really needs to stop lying about publication dates.) So I can’t really be objective about the pacing. But that’s not to say it’s slow—it’s a bit slow at the beginning, as Dumas catches us up with our favorite musketeers and the situation in France, but once the four reunite and the plot gets rolling, it gets rolling. It’s fatiguing in one go not because nothing happens but because everything that could possibly happen happens. What do you want—a high speed horse chase? The fall of Charles I? Exploding boats? Jokes about cannibalism? Manly, affectionate friendships? Dumas has everything. (And God bless him for it.)
Our boys are back in the saddle, older, wiser, and a little more exaggerated—Aramis’ violence and womanizing can best be summed up by how Porthos recognizes him from afar when he’s late—“I see an abbe cuffing a man, then bowing to a woman; it must be Aramis” (Dumas). But he’s also more sly and politic this time around, and he certainly remains as vain as ever. (D’Artagnan reminds him to stop lying about his age at one point.) D’Artagnan is now the mastermind and de facto leader of the group, with his strategies and knack for balancing his friends’ temperaments. Porthos is as lusty and content as ever, although apparently stronger—I certainly don’t recall him being able to fell men with one blow of his fist in The Three Musketeers. And Athos remains steadfast and honorable, but with even more of a reason; Twenty Years After introduces us to Raoul, his son, a sweet, hopeful fifteen-year-old who wants to live up to his father and the stories he’s heard of the four friends back in the day. I must admit to loving aging action heroes; it’s why I liked Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. So seeing them older, wiser, and making cracks about everything was so much better back in the day was fantastic. With a truly terrifying villain in the form of the Puritan-raised and obsessive Mordaunt on top, it’s a solid cast.
I love reading Dumas because it’s fun and swashbuckling and wild—I can imagine him being totally down with the new The Three Musketeers film adaptation, which already looks absolutely out-of-control. He takes swipes at all quarters, including his own characters; D’Artagnan can’t help making fun of Porthos’ reliance on his brawn over his brains at one point, which goes over his friend’s head. And it all comes wrapped up with a neatly bittersweet ending, which I love. Yes, his works can be intimidating on the basis of sheer size, but I like to encourage people to give them a shot. You just have to remember to take it in small doses—just like Dumas’ original audience—and hang in there. They’re completely worth it.
Bottom line: Okay, Dumas is intimidating, if only due to sheer size. But take Twenty Years After in small doses—like Dumas’ original audience did—and you’ll find a rollicking adventure with four swashbuckling heroes that, after a slow start, is absolutely stuffed with action to an almost fatiguing degree. Ever see a high speed horse chase before?
- Dumas, Alexandre. Twenty Years After. Public Domain Books. Web. 17 March 2006.