Eighty books! I’m not fucking around am I? Some of them are proper big bastards too, like this one. My goal is to knock off a hundred books this year and, by God, I think I’ll do it!
There’s something satisfying about closing the final volume of an epic series, having read the whole thing. It feels like an achievement . Alexandre Dumas has given us many reasons to be grateful because he’s supplied us with five different opportunities to experience the saga-ending book-closing bliss that I just felt.
Naturally, you’ll all be aware of the D’Artagnan Romances. That’s his famous five-volume series of which I reviewed two on this ‘umble blog in 2018. For those who missed it, it’s the saga that begins with The Three Musketeers and ends with The Man In The Iron Mask. As much as I also like the cartoon TV adaptation with dogs, the books are far superior. It’s among the best of what I’ve ever read. Everybody in the manosphere knows The Count Of Monte Cristo which is a two-volume series but runs very long indeed, considering. I have now just completed my third Dumas saga, The Last Valois trilogy, of which this book The Forty-Five Guardsmen is the concluding volume .
It’s good. It’s really really good.
The centrepiece of the plot is King Henri’s adviser hiring forty-five swordsmen from Gascony and bringing them to the palace to give him a round-the-clock bodyguard (three shifts of fifteen men) of mercenaries who are outside of the Louvre beltway intrigue . They do foil one assassination attempt but despite being granted the title of this volume, they don’t actually figure much in the plot.
That plot begins with the Gascons arriving at different gates of Paris incognito on the same morning that a prisoner and would-be assassin is publicly executed. It’s done by quartering, something Dumas doesn’t sugarcoat. Just before his death, it appears the prisoner will confess and thus implicate King Henri’s brother and rival Duc D’Guise but the sudden appearance of a mysterious woman tricks the prisoner, through signs, into remaining silent.
What follows is political manoeuvring between the rivals for the throne. Duc D’Guise and his clan look favoured to win, but the King’s other brother Duc D’Anjou is also jostling for succession. Down in the south, Henry of Navarre (lead character in volume one) is also plotting an uprising while feigning being sidetracked by mistresses and booze. Overlaid on this are the solo plans of Chicot the Jester (to protect the King) and his rival Father Borromee, a wise old soldier masquerading as a monk as he militarises the monastery in preparation for an assassination attempt.
Chicot visits Henry Of Navarre as an ambassador of the King and is roped into witnessing Henry’s capture of a key fortified town. There is also a romantic subplot as Diana (the Dame of Monsoreau) is acting with her manservant Remy to assassinate Duc D’Anjou in revenge for his cold-blooded murder of Count Bussy in volume two. She is pursued by one of King Henri’s court favourites who pedestalises her hard but rescues her following a massive flood in Flanders (itself following a rousing battle scene).
There’s so much going on here and once more Dumas masterfully weaves together story threads that have been running wild since volume one. George R R Martin could learn a thing or two from that . There are some really memorable scenes which I took for granted while reading (as I read the trilogy back-to-back without dipping into other books) but looking back they really were fantastic writing. For example:
- Chicot visits his friend the monk Gorenflot at the monastery as he sniffs out a military subterfuge but the whole scene is played I-know-that-you-know-that-I-know as each side tries to ferret out what the other knows.
- Henry of Navarre traps Chicot in his base town without ever breaking etiquette or formally calling him prisoner. Instead he has a comical series of attendants “helping” Chicot who never quite finds himself alone.
- There’s a thrilling battle scene in Flanders following by an epic deluge, forcing Remy, Diana and the nobleman to flee. It plays out like a disaster movie of a tidal wave hitting the coastline.
Finally the book climaxes with a neat symmetry of vengeance fulfilled, told neatly through the eyes of a distant observer trying to guess the actions of the assassin and victim as the scene plays out subtly. Do you remember the end of Gladiator? After a bombastic movie full of battles, mass fights, and intrigue it all comes to a head one-to-one in the dirt of the Colosseum as Maximus slides a poniard into the throat of Commodus.
It’s personal, small-scale, as if they are the only two people in the world. It’s like listening to a lute player immediately after a stadium rock concert. The Forty-Five Guardsmen ends The Last Valois trilogy like that. It’s not quite as beautiful as the ending to The Count Of Monte Cristo  but it’s damn good.
This was an excellent series and thoroughly recommended. That said, any inquiring minds who are new to Dumas should begin with TCOMC. That’s still the best.
If you like to….. blah blah. Look, just give me your money. I’ll send you some really polished, high-quality products in return. You get awesome material, and I get to avoid having a real job. Sounds like a deal? Go here and peruse my products.
 Though writing the bloody thing is something more of an achievement.
 I still look forward to the three-volume Sainte-Hermine saga and the five-volume Marie Antoinette epic, but those can wait a while. I’ve had quite enough of the French court for now.
 Kind of like Trump bringing in military intelligence, Jeff Sessions, and John Huber as his own praetorian guard while he dismantles the Deep State.
 He preferred to disappear up his own arsehole and then let HBO’s incompetent writers turn Game Of Thrones into a childish cartoon.
 Literally the best climax to a story you’ll ever read 
 Not including volume six of D’Krauser Romances, to be released maybe this year.