The Three Musketeers-Part 2: The Review

My Quick Take: I had no idea what to expect and this book proved a rollicking good time, though the ending gave me pause.

See Part One of this series: The Three Musketeers-Part 1: Read-Along! 

This review contains spoilers about the ending, though the novel is almost 200 years old!


Last month, my daughter Sophia and I decided to read The Three Musketeers after finding a copy in a local Little Free Library. We realised that though the book is ubiquitous in pop culture, we had no idea what it was actually about. Check out my blog post on our process of deciding to read it, and also my research into the various translations (which edition you decide to read does matter!).

Unfortunately, Sophia had to drop out part way as the realities of being a full-time uni student and working robbed her of excess reading time. In the end, though, I persisted, and I’ve blogged my way through the book. Every two chapters, I wrote down my quick thoughts, and my favourite quotes. This was a fantastic way to read the book, and Sophia vows to continue once her schedule lets up.

As it stands now, the blog post serves as a reading companion to anyone who wants to take up the challenge of reading the book and needs a bit of company along the way. If you do decide to use the blog that way, do let me know, or drop me a comment in the blog post. I’d love to hear what you think!

I’d recommend this as a fun classic read, though not without a few reservations. The plot was a complete surprise to me. The story is so convoluted, with stories intertwining, and sub-plots abounding, that I cannot begin to summarise the action. You’ll just have to read it! Sometimes I found myself incredulous at the sheer drama of it all. Basically, four young men get up to shenanigans repeatedly and battle enemies on many sides, including one of the most interesting villainesses that I have seen in literature, Milady de Winter.

I had the notion that this would be a serious novel, like a real classic that I’d need to ponder…but no. I realised halfway though that I was essentially reading a soap opera. Dumas wrote in the Romantic tradition of 19th century France with individualism and emotional drama as key, and there’s plenty of melodrama and farce to be had. I’m not sure about the reading habits of the 19th century, but I could see this being read aloud in the evenings around the living room in place of Netflix. It would be no less entertaining!

The main quartet of young men were flummoxing. They were brave, strong, and skilled fighters. But they were surprisingly annoying in other ways. They made rash decisions and basically liked to fight all the time. In one journey, each of them got into deadly violent altercations at each town they visited, with fighting men dropping like flies. They were terrible money managers. When they had money they were profligate spenders. When they didn’t have it, they mostly talked their married mistresses into giving them more. Our Musketeers were kept men in some sense, though they did have a day job of soldiering. Sometimes I wanted to play mom to them and give them a good talking to: manage your money better and quit all your fighting and things would be a lot easier! But that would make for a terribly boring book. As it was, the action was non-stop and fun, if incredulous.

I had complicated feelings about the story of Milady, culminating in a slightly problematic resolution for her character. The last quarter of the book focused more on her story. I have mixed feelings about her. She’s bad. For sure, I get that. But she’s smart, and wily, and a survivor, and I started bonding with her over that a bit. I liked the way she manipulated Felton, and if he was so easily swayed, then perhaps she deserved to win that battle of wits. I can’t help but wonder how she fared in her early life, suspecting that there’s an alternate reading of the book from a more feminist perspective. What were the factors that drove her to her evil ways? To be a woman in this man’s world of the 1600s may have required a lot to survive.

She was a nun, she escaped with a priest, was caught and branded. She then caught the eye of the monseigneur of a vast estate and he married her (as opposed to simply assaulting her as was his right at the time apparently–you wonder about the choices she was forced to make), he found out her criminal history, then promptly tried to hang her from a tree. She escaped and she’s now basically an agent for the French in a time of war for the Cardinal. My quibble here? The Musketeers get up to no good as well. The Cardinal and his other male agent have the same agenda politically as Milady (in fact, she works for the Cardinal) and they get off without a scratch. The part of the book that didn’t sit well with me was her execution. It’s the woman who is punished for taking a side opposing the Musketeers. There’s something unsettling about ten big men standing around conducting a sham trial and condemning a woman to death, then executing her. The scene was pretty unforgiving, and brutal enough.

Indeed, the wronged men are the opposite of impartial jurors. Milady is in the right here, I think, when she says, "If I am guilty, if I have committed the crimes you accuse me of...take me before a tribunal. You are not judges! You cannot condemn me!"

In a way, it is mob rule and a summary execution:
"You are cowards, miserable assassins-ten men combined to murder one woman. Beware! If I am not saved I shall be avenged."
"You are not a woman," said Athos, coldly and sternly. "You do not belong to the human species.; you are a demon escaped from hell, wither we send you back again."
Overall, I am glad I read The Three Musketeers, and I’d highly recommend it to you if you’re interested in the classics. It’s fun, entertaining and it’s good to read the source material for so many pop culture references and various adaptations. Misgivings about the treatment of Milady are no reason not to appreciate the novel, as in the end it makes the book more complex and interesting, and can provide a rich ground for further conversation and thought.

My plan now is to watch some of the adaptations (I haven’t ruled out watching Barbie and the Three Musketeers…) and blog about that in a follow-up post.

If you’ve read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What did you think of the ending?