The Situation: It is France in 1625, and D'Artagnan, a poor nobleman, has left his home and intends to join the Musketeers of the Guard. On the way, he is insulted by an older man, beaten unconscious, and ends up losing the letter of introduction meant to be given to the commander of the Musketeers. Without it, he will not be able to join the ranks of the Musketeers, and now he is also bent on revenge against the man who insulted him and had him beaten. If that were not enough, he eventually ends up scheduling duels with each of the current Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. It is only when the Cardinal Richelieu, whose agent it was that first insulted D'Artagnan, shows up to arrest them all that the four gentlemen band together and end up fighting as one.
The Problem: It would seem that D'Artagnan has already had plenty of adventure before the real plot of the novel begins and the more epic adventures start to take place. But befriending the Musketeers is only the beginning, as D'Artagnan will end up being repeatedly attacked by the Cardinal, and having affairs with both his landlord's wife, and the beautiful but dangerous Milady, with the latter affair nearly costing him his life. Meanwhile the three Musketeers have their own separate problems, but the primary focus of the entire story is always on D'Artagnan as he pursues his ultimate goal of being a Musketeer, while avoiding the schemes of those who both wish him dead and plot against the throne.
Genre, Themes, History: The Three Musketeers is an historical adventure novel written in the 1800s, but set in the 1600s. The story is full of sword fighting, adventures, plotting, scheming, manipulative people, power hungry nobles and clergyman, seductive women, and a fair amount of witty banter. The novel is also somewhat political as the dangerous but smart Cardinal Richelieu attempts to advance his own power, while undermining the throne the entire time. The serialization of the novel took place four years before the French Revolution, when France's Second Republic was firmly established. Dumas would be no stranger to political tension and managed to insert it into the story, while still maintaining the sense of grand adventure that came with scenes of sword play and romantic distractions. And something else Dumas includes is the power of a beautiful face, as the villainous Milady is able to get away with most anything simply because of her beauty and charm. It is a beauty that would make her even more dangerous and manipulative than the Cardinal. In short, this story has everything that could be desired in an historical adventure.
My Verdict: Despite having been written in the 1800s and being a door stop, The Three Musketeers is worth picking up, even with all of the movie adaptations available as an alternative to working your way through a 600 page book. The story is rarely boring, and the villainous Milady was enough to keep me involved through to the end, wondering if she would get away with all she had done, and if the Musketeers would end up the triumphant heroes in the end. And while many of the longer classics tend to be confusing due to the massive amount of characters that are often introduced, the only confusion I sometimes experienced was in telling Athos, Porthos, and Aramis apart, but even that becomes clear early in the novel. Dumas' story can still holds its own against the many adventures we have available to us today, and there is a reason many attempt to make their own adaptations of it, despite there being plenty already in existence.
Favorite Moment: When D'Artagnan finally realizes who and what Milady is, and manages to escape her grasp and her charm.
Favorite Character: I assume everyone has their personal favorite Musketeer, so I pick Aramis. I don't have any real reason really, I just enjoyed reading about his personal struggle between wanting to someday enter a monastery, and his love of the ladies.
Recommended Reading: Had I read any of Dumas' other works I would most certainly recommend one here, but unfortunately I have not had to opportunity to do so. Therefore I recommend Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. It is certainly a different kind of adventure story, entertaining in a different way and with a hero that only imagines that he is on a noble errand.