Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Last Musketeer

The Last Musketeer
by Stuart Gibbs
Recommended Ages: 12+

It's a good thing Greg Rich got to learn French, fencing and horseback riding at his elite private school in Connecticut, before his family lost everything and he had to transfer to a public school in New York. I mean, it isn't a good thing right away, because all that stuff makes it harder to fit in, and he never really felt like he belonged even before the family fortune went. But it all turns out to be really handy for Greg when an evil, immortal sorcerer tricks his parents into giving him their half of a stone that he then uses to take the four of them 400 years back in time. It's really lucky because present-day American kid Greg turns out to be D'Artagnan – the hero of Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers – and if he's going to save his parents and get back to the future, he'll need to bring together that book's real-life title characters.

In Greg's favor, Aramis, Athos and Porthos really exist in 1615 Paris, and he practically stumbles over them and makes friends with them easily. The problem? Well, to start, they're only teenagers. D'Artagnan wasn't supposed to meet them until years later, when the Musketeers were already an established unit, answering directly to King Louis XIII. But thanks to unscheduled time travel, and the very much scheduled execution of his parents, Greg doesn't have the luxury of waiting for the boys to grow up and become friends. He brings them together in a just cause – saving the lives of his unjustly condemned parents – albeit without sharing all the details, at first. And honestly, he wouldn't get very far without them in the fetid streets and waterways of pre-Revolution Paris. He needs all the advantage he can take from cathedral clerk Aramis's intelligence and clerical skill, militiaman Athos's skills as a swashbuckling warrior, and the foppish Porthos's ability to move among the nobility and even royalty – not to mention the almost insane bravery, resourcefulness and loyalty that soon binds them together, "all for one and one for all."

Also, they're in a lot of trouble. I should have mentioned that before. The captain of the king's guard has put out a description of Greg, wanted for an alleged conspiracy to assassinate King Louis. The prison he's put Greg's parents in is a dreadful pit of filth, disease and death – and it's designed to be unjailbreakable. A certain Milady de Winter, a teenager herself, already seems to be on her way to becoming a formidable mischief-maker. And of course that evil, time-traveling sorcerer I mentioned is still out there, pulling strings behind the scenes, manipulating the impetuous youths into a trap that he has designed to destroy the Musketeers before they can destroy him. These kids have a rocky road ahead of them, and I don't just say that because the streets of Paris were a cobblestoned mess at that date. Greg will be too busy fighting to stay alive in 1615 to worry about making it back to the future.

I mentioned before how Greg never felt like he belonged in the 21st century. But even though he feels like the weakest link in the Musketeers Club, soon he enough he's pulling zany stunts like climbing walls, swimming the Seine River, swinging from chandeliers and shimmying down ten-story ropes – in short, not lagging far behind his newfound friends in derring-do. So let's not be too upset with the fact that this book doesn't end with him and his folks making it safetly back to the era of indoor plumbing, cellphones and the internet. He apparently has more adventures ahead of him as D'Artagnan, and it would be a shame to break up the band before it makes the big time. Still, you can only imagine (sorry, spoilers) how proud and bemused Greg's parents must have felt, seeing him and the other three boys officially becoming the king's Musketeers.

Maybe I'm showing my age when this book leaves me seeing that scene from their point of view. But while I'm showing my age, let me pause right here to tell young readers that not only will they enjoy this book, but they have nothing to fear from Dumas's original, either. Despite being one of those classics that generations of kids have whined about being forced to read for school, it's a purely enjoyable adventure that is worth getting to know – maybe (hint, hint) before reading this book – so that you can appreciate even better what Stuart Gibbs is doing with Dumas's characters. And then, perhaps you will feel that lump in your throat when the four(!) Musketeers pledge their "all for one" oath to each other, because the possibility of such heroes – even in a historical romance – matters so deeply, and resonates in the heart.

This is the first book of the "Last Musketeer" trilogy, which continues with Traitor's Chase and Double Cross. Its author is is the same Stuart Gibbs who has written nine "Spy School" novels, three "Moon Base Alpha" books, at least two "Charlie Thorne" books and seven "FunJungle" books. Meanwhile, the original Musketeers was also only the first book in a series (whose number of books varies, depending on how they're divided up) by a prolific author who specialized in sensationalized historical fiction. Here's a list of Dumas's titles, if you're interested.

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