Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Review: Mistress of the Revolution

Summary: Set in decadent, turbulent revolutionary France, Mistress of the Revolution is the story of Gabrielle de Montserrat. An impoverished noblewoman raised in a remote province, Garbrielle is only fifteen when she meets her first love, a commoner named Pierre-Andre Coffinhal. In accordance with social customs and laws that give Gabrielle's brother and guardian absolute power, Gabrielle is forced into a marriage to an aging, wealthy cousin, while Pierre-Andre leaves for a legal career in faraway Paris.

Gabrielle arrives at the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in time to be caught in the emerging storm. Determined and inquisitive, she strives to find her own freedom while around her opposing currents of thought clash over the fate of a nation. As the revolution take an ever more violent turn, she glimpses her first love as he ascends from obscure patriot to the bench of the Revolutionary Tribunal. At last, confronted with the prospect of the guillotine, she reaches for him and an impossible happiness.

Replete with period detail and characters inspired by real-life figures such as Marie Antoinette, Maximilien Robespierre, and Pierre-Andrew Coffinhal, Mistress of the Revolution is an unforgettable debut from a new voice in historical fiction. - book jacket

I was just thrilled when the Fedex man delivered MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION by Catherine Delors. I couldn't wait to get started on it! Even though I don't read a lot of historical fiction books, I almost always enjoy them when I finally get around to reading them. Maybe it's the blend of romance and history that combine to make them so much fun. Whatever the reason, I thought this book was a wonderful read!

Out of all the historical fiction books that I have read in recent memory, I have never read one about the French Revolution. Of course, I had heard of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette; but beyond that I was kind of clueless about this whole period of history. I found this time period to be fascinating, and I want to read more about it (maybe a historical fiction book about Marie Antoinette). Ms. Delors did an excellent job of weaving the story of the Revolution throughout the entire book. While the main character of Gabrielle was fictitious, many characters in the book were real-life figures. I thought the plot was at times difficult to follow since I had no background on the history or characters; however, the book kept my interest throughout and I was very interested in the futures of the characters.

The story told by Gabrielle only covered a small part of her life, but what a life it was! I felt her life was so terribly sad and I had so much compassion for her. She did have a few friends and some brief times of happiness, but so much of her life was tragic. She fell in love at 15 with Pierre-Andre Coffinhal who was a commoner, but she was forbidden from marrying him. Just weeks later, she was forced into an abusive marriage with an older man. Within a few years, she became a mother and a widow who was left with almost no money.

While it may have seemed that she did have the ability to make some choices, I felt she had almost no control over the direction of her life. At times I would find myself getting frustrated with her behavior, but I had to remind myself that she was so young and basically on her own -- she was a victim of the times. From a very young age, she basically had to ensure her daughter's and her survival no matter what it required. At least towards the end of the book, she was able to find some happiness with Pierre-Andre; however, like every other time in her life, it was short-lived.

I was very impressed by Ms. Delors' knowledge of French history as well as the research she conducted to write this novel. This book actually had a lot more historical content than I was expecting -- but that's a good thing! Ms. Delors was born and raised in France and she is from a family of French aristocrats, yet she wrote this book in English (which is her second language.) That blows my mind because I felt this book was extremely well written.

If you want to learn more about Ms. Delors, she has a website and a blog which are very interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Q&A section of her website, and I thought it definitely enhanced my understanding of the novel. I think many book clubs will be reading MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION in the upcoming months. There is already a discussion guide available here which will help focus the conversation.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great review! I agree with you: Gabrielle is a woman of her class and age, both the architect and the victim of her own destiny.

thewriterslife said...

Wasn't that the most fantastic review??? Julie, I highly recommend you to anyone looking for a review...better yet...she's all mine! did a fantastic job...looking for more wonderful reviews!

As for Catherine's book, I wish I could say I finished it...I ran out of time before the tour started, but it has an excellent beginning. Drew me right into the the premise anyway and I'm like you, Julie...I don't read much historical fiction unless it's from one of my clients as I usually prefer lighter reads, but I can't wait to get back in and finish this. You wrote a wonderful book, Catherine, and I wish you so much luck after the tour, it's not even funny. You've been such a pleasure to work with!

Melissa N. said...

Hi Julie -- Based on your review, I would love to read this book. I think that the period of the French Revolution is one of the most interesting in history. If you want to read more about it, I would recommend: "Abundance" by Sena Jeter Naslund (fictional biography about Marie Antionette); "To Dance with Kings" by Rosalind Laker (author of "The Venetian Mask").

Cheryl said...

I have read this book and I agree with everything Julie said and more. I love historical fiction, and this is one of my favorites. The detail, the historical knowledge woven seemlessly into the story, and the depth of each character makes this a must read for anyone who loves historical fiction.

You've written a great novel, Catherine. I look forward to your next one!