The Cardinal’s Blades, The Alchemist in the Shadows, by Pierre Pevel

Pevel’s series will envelope the reader in seventeenth-century Paris, but it’s not our Paris, because here be dragons.

If you look these books up on Amazon.com, you may see some snotty comments (I don’t know how else to describe them) which say, “This is just The Three Musketeers with dragons.” No, it isn’t. Brush off those comments as jealousy—as in why didn’t I think of this?

Pevel uses a familiar “taxonomy” of dragonkind, where dragonnets are common household pets (small enough to be held, like a lapdog), wyverns are generally domesticated beasts of burden ridden by messengers, and dragons—well, dragons can be incredibly old, wily, politically power-hungry, and through the use of their magic, they can take human form.

After that, Pevel spins off a unique and vivid world with famous personalities from France in 1633. Cardinal Richelieu recognizes an enemy in the Black Claw, a secret society of dragons who have infiltrated the Spanish Court and which promises its human cult followers a chance at becoming dragons themselves. Richelieu decides to reform the “Cardinal’s Blades,” agents led by Captain La Fargue.

The reader finds that everyone has a political agenda and secrets to hide—to include the blades themselves. Captain La Fargue has his own secrets to hide, such as a daughter who must be protected from her heritage. One blade is a mysterious half-dragon, who seems to answer to Richelieu only. Another intriguing blade, Baronne Agnès de Vaudreuil, is a woman who left the Sisterhood of Saint Georges before taking orders. The Sisters of Saint Georges, coupled with the Saint Georges Guards, are what keep France free from Black Claw influence. At least for the moment.

“Intriguing” is one word for Pevel’s stories—but I’ll warn you that in these first two books, Pevel will deal with the immediate problem at hand and end with a cliffhanging scene that’ll make you cry for more. You won’t solve, entirely, the mystery of each character’s background because Pevel will add more layers of mystery.

But don’t let the cliff-hangers dissuade you, because these books are delicious. The prose is smooth and evokes a swash-buckling seventeenth century. The great English translation is a credit to Tom Clegg, but the details are Pevel’s. This author is one to watch: he’s won the 2002 Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, the 2005 Prix Imaginales, and the 2010 David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Newcomer.

If you like magical alternate worlds with historical details real enough to smell and feel, read these books.

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