Today, Cyrano de Bergerac is generally only remembered as a lovelorn eccentric with a big nose. Edmund Rostand’s famous play inspired by the life of Cyrano is a worldwide box-office smash but the man behind the legend is more or less forgotten.

A death-defying soldier-poet in the age of the musketeers, Cyrano’s duelling skills were unparalleled, and his wit was every bit as keen as his sword’s edge. He employed his sharp tongue and satirical pen in continued criticism of church and state — his harrowing personal experiences had made him a staunch opponent of Louis XIV’s bloody foreign policy — as well as in defiance of social norms — Cyrano refused to acknowledge his likely homosexuality as a sin: brave and independent thinking that was years ahead of its time but which meant that his life was in constant danger.

The real Cyrano was sharper, funnier and, ironically, more modern than the romantic hero he inspired.Part murder mystery, part literary detective story, Ishbel Addyman presents a fascinating insight into the heroically courageous, sparklingly witty and unfailingly good-humoured man behind the legend

Addyman clearly adores her subject and her enthusiasm is genuinely catching, but unfortunately the writing itself has some weaknesses: sentences are short and choppy and the use of punctuation is erratic.

 He was not only a formidable swordsman but also one of the earliest science fiction writers, creating stories in which his hero travels in a rocket to the moon and the sun.

There could also be more focus within the chapters, which tend to dance all over the place. It’s a shame, because there’s no doubt that Cyrano was a fascinating and controversial figure, but this biography just doesn’t quite do justice to him.

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