Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review: The Last Musketeer, by Stuart Gibbs (Harper Collins, 2011)

Recommended for ages 8-12.

As a Three Musketeers fan since I was twelve years old, I was of course excited to read this new time travel story, in which a 21st century boy travels back to France of the early 17th century, befriending the future musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.  Author Stuart Gibbs' fast paced, action-packed tale may well appeal to today's tweens, but I couldn't help but be disappointed in the way he interprets Dumas' classic story for the 21st century.

The story starts off strong, with a terrific first sentence that will grab any young reader:  "Clinging to the prison wall, Greg Rich realized how much he hated time travel."  On a trip to Paris with his family to sell the family's treasured heirlooms to the Louvre, Greg and his parents are pulled through a time warp, winding up in 1615.  When his parents are falsely imprisoned for trying to kill the young Louis XIII, Greg must rescue them--by meeting up with three teenagers like himself, Aramis, a young cleric, Athos, a soldier from the lower social classes, and Porthos, a foppish rich young nobleman who's the life of the party.  Greg himself becomes known as D'Artagnan (in the original a fish-out-of-water himself, as a bumbling, hot-headed young man from the distant province of Gascony.  Mix in a nefarious brother of Cardinal Richelieu (the Cardinal being a central character in Dumas' novel), and a young Milady de Winter (the original villainess in the Three Musketeers), some tropes of fantasy fiction (a stone that grants eternal life), and voila!  a 21st century musketeer rehash.

Gibbs does a good job with the whole fish-out-of-water time travel tropes, with Greg disgusted by the smells of Paris, the privies, and the fleas, among others.  The book of matches in his pocket make the 17th century characters he meet think he's a magician, as does his ability to swim.  There's plenty of action, as Greg and his new-found friends swashbuckle their way to saving Greg's parents.  At the end, they don't go back to the 21st century, which makes me think that Gibbs has a sequel up his sleeve.

While I can't help but appreciate any author that brings Dumas' characters to the attention of 21st century kids, I couldn't get over several changes to the original story that drove me crazy.  First of all, the author keeps referring to Greg being in medieval Paris.  While the streets of Paris might have been similar to the way they were in the Middle Ages, 1615 is definitely not considered the Middle Ages, and I wonder how such a glaring error could have escaped the Harper editors, not to mention the professor of French history who Gibbs thanks in his acknowledgment for vetting the manuscript.  Second, and what bothered me more as a fan of the original novel, which I couldn't help wondering if Gibbs had actually read, he changed many key elements of the musketeers' personalities.  For example, Athos, or the Conte de la Fere in the original, was a member of the nobility, not a common soldier, as Gibbs makes him out to be.  Appearing as a young girl, the character of Milady de Winter doesn't make sense with that name, since she is supposed to have married an English lord after having been married to Athos as a young girl.  Also, it's not very believable that 14-year old boys would be made guards of the king!  Any young person who reads this and goes on to read the original Dumas is going to discoverer the many inconsistencies, which I just don't think were necessary.   And by turning the somewhat ordinary Greg into D'Artagnan, Gibbs eliminated one of the funniest and most memorable characters in the book, the young Gascon around whom the plot unfolds.

In short, while I enjoyed the concept of this story, I believe the execution could have been much better, simply by keeping more to the original outlines of Dumas' immortal characters.  Unfortunately, I don't think that Gibbs' changes to the basic characters really added to the story, but rather detracted from it.  It will be interesting to see if a sequel is in the making.

Has anyone seen the new 3-d Musketeer movie?  I haven't yet, discouraged by the terrible reviews!  My favorite film version is still the Richard Lester version with Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Faye Dunaway, and others from 1973. Although this version made changes from the original, it was very much in the sprit of the original novel.

1 comment:

Sherry said...

Yes, I agree about the movie, although you didn't mention Raquel Welch who makes a wonderfully buxom love interest for D'Artagnan.