Published by Alma Books on November 2015
Genres: Historical, Romance, Young Adult
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson
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A sweeping story of danger, intrigue and young love, set against the French Revolution, one of the most dramatic moments in history.
Celie Rosseau is a talented young artist who, along with her partner Algernon, resorts to petty thieving on the streets of Paris to survive. It is 1789: rumours of rebellion against the monarchy are starting to spread in the capital, and the two of them get involved in the idealistic revolutionary fervour. But when she is caught stealing from the brother of the King himself, Celie is saved only thanks to her drawing skills and the intercession of Marie Tussaud, the famous waxworks artist and a favourite at the French court, who decides to employ her.
Suddenly Celie finds herself whisked away from the tumult of Paris to the safety and opulence of Versailles. This raises a difficult moral dilemma for the young lady who had until recently dreamt of overthrowing the very people who now treat her with kindness: should she compromise her ideals and risk losing Algernon - the man she loves - or should she stay true to the cause of the poor and the revolution?
This was an enjoyable historical fiction novel set during the French Revolution. Even though I love my historical fiction, this is the first one that I’ve read about 18th century France, and I found it to be highly fascinating.
In this book, our protagonist, Celie, is an orphan living on the streets of Paris with Algernon, the boy who saved her and taught her to steal from the rich. Celie is a talented artist with a photographic memory and her talents come in handy during their petty thieving. Together, Celie and Algernon vow to join the rebellion and fight for equality between the rich and poor. When Celie finds herself facing execution for stealing from the King’s brother, she is saved by famed waxwork artist, Madame Tussaud, who employs Celie to be her apprentice. She then finds herself in the company of the royal family and the very people who she wants revenge against.
Do they find me of so little value that they will make decisions about my life without consent?
My favourite aspect of this book was definitely the setting and the time period of the book. The French Revolution isn’t something that I know very much about, so getting a glimpse into life during 18th century France was very interesting to me. I enjoyed being able to see the inequalities between the classes and how the people lived during that period. I got the sense the book was very well researched and I appreciated that. However, there were some anachronisms that bothered me a little bit as I read, such as the use of the word ‘tuberculosis’ when that name wasn’t used until the 19th century. My other problem with using the French Revolution as the backdrop was the timeline of the book. Because the French Revolution lasted for a really long time in history, the author had to change some things (which she acknowledges in the author’s note). The whole timeline just felt very off for me. There was lots of skipping ahead weeks and months and things just seemed to all happen and develop very quickly. I wish it could have been executed a little bit better.
Another aspect that I enjoyed was learning about the wax figures and the process of making them. I found it to be highly fascinating and I had no idea that the process was so tedious (of course it is, silly me). I learnt lots about the process, including the fact that they used real teeth for the wax figures, which made me think of Les Miserables and people selling their teeth. I also had no idea that they used the real severed heads of King Louis and Marie Antoinette to make the molds of their wax figures! The process was kind of gross though.
“Learn all you can. Draw all you can, Celie. And remember that we work for the freedom of France.”
What I didn’t enjoy as much was Celie’s character. She comes across as a little bit haughty, like “I’ve seen horrific things on the streets that you can’t even imagine, which allows me to say and do whatever I want”. She had a very smart mouth that I just wanted to her keep closed for most of the book. It annoyed me that she had absolutely no self-control and no regard for other people. She didn’t seem to know her place or how dire her situation was most of the time. I can appreciate that she wants to make a difference but there were times when she acted like she was the only one who could. And it was especially irritating because she was incredibly naive and had no idea what the rebellion actually meant and what she was standing up for. She does grow a lot towards the end of the book and I enjoyed the character development, but it all came a bit too late for me to fully change my mind about her.
I also didn’t like Algernon. He was very manipulative throughout the whole book and made me feel very uncomfortable. He didn’t seem to have Celie’s best interests at heart and I wasn’t a fan of his. He does redeem himself a little at the end, but it was another case of too little too late. As a result, I wasn’t a fan of the romance because I didn’t think they were right together or that he deserved her.
My last few criticisms are about the writing and pace of the book. The writing was very easy to read and I enjoyed it for the most part. However, what I didn’t enjoy at all was the French that was casually thrown in. When the whole book is set in France and everybody is speaking French, I didn’t think it was necessary to have little bits of the dialogue in French. Isn’t it a given? We don’t really need the reminder that these people are French. It was particularly annoying because it was also just the same words over and over – “oui”, “non”, and “n’est-ce pas” at the end of every sentence – and it seemed kind of obvious to me that the author doesn’t speak French.
The pace of the book was off for me. It was very slow-paced for more than half of the book, with nothing much happening. Suddenly, everything was mayhem and things just started all happening very quickly. There were all these changes about Paris that were suddenly revealed and it almost felt to me like the author decided randomly that it was time to get the story started. Everything developed too quickly for me and I didn’t have time to enjoy it because everything happened and was over in a span of 100 pages.
This was an interesting historical fiction novel that I enjoyed for the most part. It had a very charming setting and I enjoyed learning about waxworks and French history. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a big fan of the characters or the pace of the book but I still thought it was great and would recommend it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for providing a review copy of the book!