"Sundial in a Grave: 1610" | The Three Musketeers

A Book Review of Mary Gentle’s “Sundial in a Grave:1610” By Christina Paul “Sundial in a Grave:1610” by Mary Gentle was

a very huge disappointment for me. Given the author’s scholarly background, quite frankly, I expected far more. It pains me to say it, for like the author, I am someone who has also spent a considerable amount of time researching the historical figures behind the famous Alexandre Dumas characters. One of my favourites, is the underappreciated and certainly underutilized Comte de Rochefort, without whom, the novels, “The Three Musketeers,” “Thirty Years After,” and indeed, much of Dumas’ fiction simply would not be. "The Mémoires de Monsieur le Comte de Rochefort", which the author in her foreword acknowledged, was written by Gatien Courtilz de Sandras in the seventeenth century and this book, along with a similar "fictionalized" memoirs of M. D'Aartagnan. These served as the major sources of inspiration for Alexandre Dumas' many masterpieces, including "The Three Musketeers". What many fail to realise is that de Sandras penned these books having actually known the real men behind the stories while he had served in the French military. Cortilz knew these men. Duma was merely borrowing from history, as he often had a tendency to do. The entire plot device regarding Athos' wife, Charlotte and the brand of the Fleur-de-lis was borrowed wholesale from de Sandras' account of Rochefort's stepmother, for example.

I own copies of M. Le Comte de Rochefort's memoirs in the archaic seventeenth century French (1678) and in its early eighteenth century English translation (1704) and so I am working from the very same source materials that Mary Gentle herself has access to and supposedly used when writing this book. I agree with the author in the foreword that Cortilz was not a writer of fiction but biographer of a sort and the seventeenth century norm would have possibly allowed for the format of an alleged "diary". When I picked up this book, naturally I thought that someone who was herself a scholar of 17th Century France, and who also had a devotion to the idea that he was a real person would at least try to be true to the historical man's memory. I was sorely disappointed. Mary Gentle's rendition of Monsieur le Comte de Rochefort turns a very misunderstood, but no less fascinating character into some sort of fangirl slash fiction masochist and is completely wrong for both fans of Dumas and anyone who cares to do even the bare minimum of historical research. In short, she butchered the man beyond all recognition and it was hard not to just cry how terribly wrong that she got him. I don't understand what she was thinking about taking the a trusted member of Cardinal Richelieu's circle and having him lust after an adolescent girl disguised as boy and later bumping into a Samurai warrior where they go on the adventure to save James I. The plot devices are historically unlikely, culturally absurd so the expecting a reader to suspend disbelief is asking just too much. There was so much going on that she could have used but she didn't. I do not recommend this book and am hoping that someone else will see fit to write a better novel about Rochefort that stays in line with who he was. "Sundial in a Grave" does not do that in the slightest. For any who are interested in the history, I would recommend trying to read the Rochefort memoirs, but the versions available online are very difficult, if not near impossible to read. Another very good book that is probably available through Amazon is "The Four Musketeers: The True Story of D'artagnan, Porthos, Amramis & Athos" by Kari Maund & Phil Nanoson, 1988 Tempus Publishing, Ltd. Not only are the Musketeers discussed, but also Rochefort and the other cast of characters and places as well.

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