Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice by Kathleen Benner Duble Review: Whoa… those severed heads

January 13, 2016 by Jenna | 3 stars, ARC Reviews, Books, Reviews

Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice by Kathleen Benner Duble Review: Whoa… those severed headsMadame Tussaud's Apprentice by Kathleen Benner Duble
Published by Alma Books, Bloomsbury on November 2015
Source: Publisher
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!

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Jenna is an Aussie blogger and reader who loves to indulge in great books and great food. She is a doctor (of philosophy) and can usually be found fangirling about something, devouring delicious food, or taking a nap. You can find her on Twitter @readwithjenna and on Instagram @readingwithjenna.

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28 responses to “Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice by Kathleen Benner Duble Review: Whoa… those severed heads

  1. You'll definitely love this one if you've been to the museums! I've been to one in the US as well and being about to learn about the process of waxworks was super interesting. I'd totally love to go to the Madame Tussaud's in Sydney now, after learning more about it.

  2. sumlynnnguyen

    I don't read enough ya historical fiction but this one sounds interesting. I think I haven't read any set during the French Revolution now that I think about it. Have you ever read any of Eva Ibbotson's ya historical fiction standalone? I remember reading them as a preteen and loving them a lot. I'm actually hoping to reread a few of them this year.
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    • Hahaha she does go through some great character development and I can see people really loving her at the end. But for me, she just annoyed me too much at the beginning to fully redeem herself.

    • Yeah, I just found it so unnecessary? I don't mind it too much when it's a book where the characters go to France for vacation or something… but when all of the characters are speaking French all the time, I don't understand why there needs to be random French words. *deep sigh*

  3. Thanks for the wonderful review Jenna, I was really looking forward to reading this book. I've been to Madame Tussaud's in Sydney and the one in the US so I really wanted to read this, as you said it was well researched so I thought it would be a good realistic novel.
    My recent post Stacking the Shelves #20

  4. Kara Terzis

    Great review! I'm actually pretty interested in this one, despite the fact that I don't often read historical fiction. I think it can always be difficult when authors bend the truth of fiction–even though it might be necessary for the story's sake.
    My recent post FRAYED Cover + Other Writing Updates

    • I think this would be perfect if you don't read a lot of historical fiction. It's quite short and focuses on an interesting period of history. It was pretty historically accurate, despite a few anachronisms and the shrinking of the timeline. I hope you enjoy it if you do pick it up, Kara!

    • Haha I hope you get to this one soon, Emily! It was a super intriguing read and had so much great French history packed into it. Your newfound French skills will come in handy here!

  5. Oooh thanks for the review on this one Jenna! Gosh they used real heads and actual teeth for those wax moulds?! Who would've known, that sounds pretty shocking! Celia does sound pretty haughty for the most party and arrogant too. Although it wasn't perfect, glad to hear you enjoyed it!

    • Yeah! It's so gross. They used the actual bloody severed heads of the royal family to create the moulds for the wax figures! And then they inserted marbles for the eyes and real teeth that people sold. I was pretty shocked when I read it!

  6. AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW MANNNNNNNNNNNN this doesn't seem like one I would pick up. :(( If the romace is non bien (is that right lol) then you have lost me. And finding out that for a historical, it has anachronisms, you have lost me again. And once again discovering the main character's annoying personality, you ave lost me forever.

    • NOOOOOOOOO. Come back! HAHA. Ehhh, I feel like some people would still like the romance. It's a little bit angsty and slow burn… but didn't do it for me (I think non bien is right… or maybe it's pas bien?) But yeah… it took a long time for the MC to stop annoying me and I don't think she ever fully redeemed herself in my eyes. There was some nice character development though.

    • I can totally understand that. This one definitely reads like a historical fiction novel and is paced like one too. I hope you find a new contemporary to enjoy!

    • They certainly weren't the most likable characters at the beginning but they do develop throughout the book, which was nice to see. The concept of this book was definitely interesting! I didn't know that much about Madame Tussaud before reading this book, but I really learnt a lot about her role in the French Revolution!

  7. keionda

    The character DOES sound aggravating! I hate those characters where it doesn't seem like they care for anyone else and all they thin about are THEMSELVES. Even though there were some mistakes the author made regarding the history (and the annoyance over the repeated French words) It still sounds like an overall good book. I'd just have to get past the annoying parts first! <3

    Great review, Jenna!

    • She was definitely aggravating when she thought only about herself, especially because it was obvious how much other people cared about her wellbeing. But she does develop and I thought her character growth was really well done. The book is also really short, so you could definitely fly through it. I still really enjoyed it and would totally recommend it.

  8. lekeishathebooknerd

    I've not read a historical story with direct French history, but there are some that have mentions of the French Revolution. Hmm, I'll have to think about this one. I do love some historical fiction, and I've only started to read lots of YA historical a few years ago. Great review!
    My recent post Blog Tour: Shade Me by Jennifer Brown

    • I thought this book was unique because it talked about Madame Tussaud's involvement in the French Revolution and how people at the time were interested in her capturing the important moments in history using waxworks. Obviously there's heaps of info about the French Revolution itself and I just thought it was fascinating.

  9. samoak

    This sounds really interesting to me primarily because of the Madame Tussaud and wax figure stuff. I'm not sure I'd be down with the French Revolution though. Same goes for the hero. I can't stand manipulative heroes. Great review!
    My recent post Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

    • I thought it was really interesting to read about Madame Tussaud's role in the French Revolution. It was fascinating and I learnt a lot about the whole process of waxworks. It's a pretty short book so I'd recommend giving it a go!

  10. This sounds like it has a very interesting concept, but just lacked in execution [excuse the pun]. It is hard to love a book when the 2 main characters irritate you. I actually did French at University, so I think the random French chucked in would annoy me. I've always been fascinated by the French Revolution. I'm glad you managed to enjoy this book despite the flaws. 🙂

    • HAHAHA that was a great pun! I did a couple years of French during high school so it kind of annoyed me as well. But I think it would be annoying to those who don't understand French too. I just don't think it's necessary when ALL of the characters are speaking in nothing but French. But even though I had problems with that and the main characters, I still really liked and would recommend the book.

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