I have an odd attachment to Arturo Pérez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste series of novels. Some of them, including Pirates of the Levant, lack much of a plot. What they do, though, is to take pains to explain the exaggerated pride and twisted sense of honor that characterized Imperial Spain (the story takes place in 1627). The books focus on the common soldier, murderous types who feel a strong allegiance to a monarchy that they openly admit does nothing for them. The king does so little for them that soldiers feel the need to resort to piracy to augment their meager incomes (and the king gets a cut of that booty as well). All they do is fight--any other work, even rowing a galley to save themselves, is dishonorable. It is an image of empire built almost entirely on violence, without even a pretense of doing good for those being colonized and exploited. Captain Alatriste and the others are cogs in this machine, trying to create a sense of meaning for themselves.