The real man in the iron mask is the subject of much historical speculation, but Alexander Dumas has written a novel which theorizes that this man was the older twin brother of King Louis XIV of France and was hidden away by his mother. The novel is the last in the "Three Musketeers" series and it finds the 4 protagonists in middle age, but still vital and going concerns in their own fields of endeavour.
Aramis, the more learned and intellectual of the musketeers, hatches a plot to exchange the imprisoned twin brother for the real king. The writing and the plot are pure genius and one marvels at the myriad twists and turns in the story and how they are so skillfully developed by Dumas. The banter between characters is nothing short of brilliant in its mastery of the language and its wit.
But as in the "Three Musketeers", the author gets off on rabbit trips and they can be lengthy and verbose as in the described relationship of Athos and his son Raoul.
There is a rousing bit of action when Aramis and Porthos are attempting an escape from their isle of banishment. These aging musketeers have not lost their skills or bravery.
The story is mostly about the workings of the court of Louis XIV. It is not an easy task to keep tabs on all the characters and the intrigues of the court which are head games taken to an extreme, where every word and every nuance is pregnant with meaning and portent.
It is a long book and I was disappointed in the end. The plot of the man in the iron mask reaches a dead end half way through the book and is never mentioned again. All but one of the protagonists meets with their demise, and it is almost as if Dumas ran out of time and ideas and the book just fizzles out like a guttering candle.
Had the ending been more satisfying, I would have given this book 4 1/2 stars but having spent so much time reading it and getting, in the end, not a whole lot of resolution, I will give it a generous 4 stars