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The First Sir Percy

January 9, 2009

I’m not exactly sure why I chose to read The First Sir Percy, the book following The Laughing Cavalier, but I suspect it had something to do with The First Sir Percy being only abut half as long as its predecessor. Anyway, I’m glad I did.

Diogenes, Frans Hals’ Laughing Cavalier, is back. He has, since the last book, discovered that his real name is Percy Blakeney, and he also, for no reason except that Baroness Orczy seemed to feel it was necessary, has been knighted. He acts much more like his eponymous descendent now. He pretends to be stupid and cowardly —  as well as blind and drunk — and even starts using some of the same exclamations as Sir Percy. He’s not really Sir Percy, but he reminds one of him, which is a big help.

The Beresteyn family and the Lord of Stoutenberg are back, too. Gilda and Diogenes are married at the beginning of the book, but a chain of events that begins on the afternoon of their wedding keeps them apart for almost the entire length of the novel. Gilda is pretty cool, mostly, except for being excessively tragic, but in one of the most entertaining passages in the book, Baroness Orczy tries to explain how Gilda can be simultaneously plump (because she’s Dutch) and ethereal (because that’s what Orczy said she was in the last book).

The Lord of Stoutenberg is, at times, genuinely creepy. He’s gone completely over the top, and he’s sort of your basic cackling insane villain, but at the same time Baroness Orzcy managed to convince me that poisoning someone was horrifying, where shooting them was only wrong, and that only someone as crazily evil as Stoutenberg would even consider it.

And then there’s Nicolaes. Poor Nicolaes. Orczy hates him, I think. She’s made him about as pathetic as he can possibly be. The only moments when he’s not completely the contemptible traitor who is not even liked by the other traitors are the ones where he feels a twinge of shame about what a contemptible traitor he is.

For me, though, the really significant thing about this book was that at times it read almost like a horror story. Orczy, as I said, manages to make the idea of poison genuinely horrifying, and the scenes where Stoutenberg is tormenting Gilda are also frightening. And then you have Diogenes apparently coming back from the dead, and although we the readers know that he never really died, Stoutenberg certainly thinks he’s a vengeful spirit. I’m not sure if the Baroness ever wrote any ghost stories, but I suspect she would have been pretty good at it.

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