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Sword and blood

Sarah Marques

288 pages
Prime Books - 2012 - États-Unis
SF, Fantasy - Roman

Intérêt: **

 

 

Sword and blood est le premier volume d’uns série annoncée par Sarah Marques sous le nom de The vampire musketeers. Sarah Marques est l’un des pseudonymes de Sarah Hoyt, une Américaine auteur de nombreux romans populaires. Sous le nom de Sarah D’Almeida, elle a notamment signé une série de romans policiers intitulée A musketeers mystery ayant les quatre mousquetaires pour héros: Death of a musketeer, The musketeer’s seamstress, The musketeer’s apprentice, A death in Gascony et Dying by the sword.

Sarah Hoyt est donc peut-être le seul auteur à avoir créé deux séries distinctes de romans mettant en scène les mousquetaires de Dumas. Si les Musketeer mysteries sont situés dans un cadre classique de romans historiques, il n’en va pas de même de Sword and blood, roman de fantasy consacré au thème du vampirisme.

L’histoire se déroule dans une sorte d’univers parallèle où les vampires prolifèrent. Venus de l’est de l’Europe, ils envahissent petit à petit le continent. Confrontés à cette offensive, les humains s’efforcent de se défendre face à ce raz-de-marée qui menace la civilisation elle-même.

L’histoire débute au même point que le roman de Dumas, dans le Paris du XVIIème siècle. Une sorte d’armistice a été conclue entre les humains, dirigés par le roi, et les vampires, dont le chef n’est autre que le cardinal Richelieu. Les hommes vivent le jour et se barricadent la nuit, qui appartient aux vampires. En théorie, aucun humain n’est censé être mordu par un vampire (en devenant un lui aussi) s’il n’est pas consentant. Mais dans la pratique, bien sûr, la guerre se poursuit en sourdine. Les vampires continuent à étendre leur emprise, déjà considérable. Et le corps des mousquetaires fait de son mieux pour s’opposer à eux et à leurs soldats de choc qui ne sont autres que les gardes du cardinal.

En abordant un roman bâti sur un tel postulat, on peut s’attendre au pire. Mais l’on est en fait plutôt heureusement surpris. D’abord parce que l’auteur décrit de façon convaincante cet affrontement entre les hommes et les vampires. Le grand métier de Sarah Hoyt se retrouve dans l’atmosphère angoissante qu’elle sait créer en décrivant les efforts désespérés des humains face à l’abomination, dans un décor de civilisation du XVIIème siècle menacée d’effondrement.

Ensuite et surtout grâce à une excellente idée: faire d’Athos le personnage central du drame. Un Athos qui vient d’être mordu par un vampire – ou plutôt une vampire qui n’est autre que son ex épouse Milady. Cette morsure condamne en principe Athos à devenir lui-même vampire. Sauf que le basculement définitif suppose une certaine dose d’acceptation, de renoncement à la lutte de la part de l’humain, ce qui n’est pas dans le caractère d’Athos. Une bonne partie du livre décrit donc les héroïques efforts de volonté du mousquetaire pour refuser de basculer dans le camp des forces du mal, pour lutter, aussi, contre le terrifiant désir qui le pousse à une union contre nature avec Milady… Ce combat surhumain d’Athos est mis en valeur par les hésitations de son entourage, les trois autres mousquetaires et les quatre valets, constamment partagés entre la crainte de voir Athos tomber pour de bon du côté des vampires et la confiance inébranlable qu’ils lui portent malgré tout.

La première moitié du roman est ainsi prenante et plutôt convaincante, beaucoup plus subtile en tout cas qu’on aurait pu le penser. On peut relever en particulier la remarquable transposition de la fameuse scène de l’arrivée de d’Artagnan dans le bureau de M. de Tréville au début des Trois mousquetaires quand Athos apparaît légèrement blessé suite à un duel avec les gardes du cardinal. Dans cette nouvelle version, Aramis et Porthos s’efforcent surtout d’empêcher quiconque de deviner qu’Athos a été mordu par un vampire.

Les choses se gâtent quelque peu, malheureusement, dans la deuxième moitié, où le roman «fantasy» prend nettement le dessus sur le démarquage des Trois mousquetaires. L’action se déplace en Gascogne pour une vaste bataille entre humains et vampires. Il apparaît entre autres qu’Athos est le descendant d’un très ancien roi des vampires qui dort depuis des siècles sous la demeure des d’Artagnan, chargés de père en fils de jouer les geôliers envers ce souverain dont le réveil signerait la victoire définitive des buveurs de sang.

Plutôt grand-guignolesque, cette fin vient gâcher un récit qui avait bien commencé. Une suite est annoncée qui devrait voir les mousquetaires voler au secours de la reine de France, menacée par les vampires.

Sarah Marques a également écrit une nouvelle se passant dans le même univers, First blood, dont l'action se passe chronologiquement avant celle du roman.

 

Extrait du chapitre Ruins and Fallen angels

“Aramis,” Monsieur de Tréville rasped. “Where is Athos?”

Aramis smiled, as if he had expected this question all along. “He’s indisposed, sir. It’s nothing serious.”

“Nothing serious,” the captain said. He turned his back on them and stared out of his window. Through it one could just glimpse the broken cross atop the cathedral, the marble stark white against the lowing sky. “Nothing serious,” he said again, his voice heavy, like the closing of a tomb. “The cardinal bragged at his card game with the king last night. He said that Athos had been turned. That Athos was now one of them. The rumor is all over Paris.”

“It is . . . not so serious,” Aramis said.

“Not so serious,” the captain turned around. “So is he only half turned? You men and your careless ways. How many times have I told you not to wander the streets at night after your guard shift? Never to go into dark alleys willingly? And if you must go into them, to guard yourselves carefully? Do you have any idea what Athos will become as a vampire? Do you not know your own friend well enough to know what a disaster this is?” His voice boomed and echoed. Doubtless, the musketeers massed in the antechamber were eagerly drinking in every word he said.

Porthos and Aramis shifted their feet, looked down, and let their hands stray to their sword pommels. It was obvious that had anyone but their captain given them such a sermon, he would have paid dearly for it.

Porthos, who had been squirming like a child in need of the privy, blurted out, “It’s just . . . that . . . sir! He has the smallpox!”

“The smallpox?” the Captain asked, with withering sarcasm, even as Aramis gave his friend a baneful, reproachful glance and a minimal headshake. “The smallpox, has Athos, who is over thirty years of age? Do you take me for a fool, Porthos?” His voice made even D’Artagnan — over whom he had, as yet, no power — back away and attempt to disappear against a wall-hung tapestry that illustrated the coronation of Henri IV. “I’ve given the three of you too much freedom because I thought you'd at least defend each other. How can you have allowed Athos to be taken? From now on, I am making sure that none of my musketeers go anywhere, save as a group. Not after dark. And if I hear of any of you starting a fight with a vamp—”

He stopped mid-word, as steps were heard rushing outside, followed by a man’s voice calling out, ‘I’m here.”

A blond man burst through the door. He was taller than Aramis, almost as tall as Porthos, though of a different build. It was not so much that he appeared lithe and lean, though he was both, but on that leanness was superimposed a layer of muscle. D’Artagnan had seen similar bodies in a book of drawings by someone who had visited Greece. The ancients had excelled in the creation of sculptures of ideal men, which they placed as parts of their temples, supporting whole buildings on their backs. The buildings and the men were both a harmony of perfect proportion. Though D’Artagnan imagined this man must be Athos, and that he must, therefore, be over thirty, he looked like a young man in the early prime of his days. It was as though he had halted at the peak of golden youth and from its summit looked through the ages unafraid, carrying the best of his civilization upon his powerful shoulders.

Like most of the other musketeers, he did not exactly wear a uniform. Instead, he wore the fashion of at least ten years before — a black doublet laced tightly in the Spanish fashion and with ballooning sleeves; black knee breeches, beneath which a sliver of carefully mended stockings showed, disappearing into the top of his old but polished riding boots.

But it was his face that attracted and arrested one’s gaze as he threw back his head, parting the golden curtain of his hair as he did so. He said, “I heard you were asking for me, Captain, and, as you see, I came in answer to your call.”

He looked like the angel guarding the entrance to a ruined cathedral; beautiful, noble, and hopeless. The mass of hair tumbling down his back might have been spun out of gold, his flesh resembling the marble out of which such a statue’s features might be chiseled. The noble brow, the heavy-lidded eyes, the high straight nose, the pronounced cheekbones, and square chin, and the lips — full and sensuous, as if hinting at forbidden earthly desires. All of it was too exquisite, too exact; perfection that no human born of woman should be entitled to.

He also looked cold, unreachable, lost, and — except for still standing on his feet and moving — as if he’d died waiting for a miracle that had never come.

Monsieur de Tréville’s mouth had remained open. He now closed it with an audible snap, and advanced on the musketeer, hands extended. “Athos! You should not have come. You look pale. Are you wounded?”

Athos shook his head, then shrugged. “A scratch only, Captain,” he said. “And you’ll be proud to know we laid ten of them down forever, D’Alene among them.”

“D’Alene? The Terror of Pont Neuf?” Monsieur de Tréville asked, suddenly gratified.

Athos bowed slightly, and in bowing, flinched a little. His eyes, which had looked black at first sight, caught the light from the window — as he turned his head — and revealed themselves as a deep, dark jade green.

The captain squeezed the musketeer’s hands hard. Athos bit his lips, looking as if the touch pained him, though not a sound of complaint escaped him. “As you see,” he said, “we do what we can to defend the people of Paris.”

“Indeed. Indeed. I was just telling your friends how much I prize men like you, and how brave you are to risk your lives every night, in defense of the people, and how . . . ”

Athos, who looked pale and wan as if he were indeed wounded, and, in fact, as if he only remained standing through sheer will, didn’t seem able to withstand the barrage of words, or perhaps the additional pain of what must be the captain’s iron grip on his hands — so tight that Monsieur de Tréville’s knuckles shone white. He made a sound like a sigh, his legs gave out under him, and he began to sink to the floor.

His friends managed to catch his apparently lifeless body and ease him onto the carpet.

Bewildered, D’Artagnan suddenly perceived that the captain must be playing some deep game. The man who’d told him musketeers didn’t fight guards clearly was pleased that musketeers did. Which must mean D’Artagnan’s father was right and that Monsieur de Tréville fought against the vampires still — only carefully enough to not be caught at fault under the treaty.

D’Artagnan took a step forward to help with the fallen Athos, but the musketeer’s two comrades moved, obstructing his path.

The young man stopped, staring. It seemed to him that, as Athos fell — awkwardly caught by Aramis around the chest and Porthos by the shoulders to ease what would otherwise have been a floor-shaking collapse — his hair moved away from his neck revealing two deep, dark puncture marks on his neck.

 


 

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