Author: Liza Perrat
Genre: Fiction (Historical / France / 18th Century / Rural Life / Herbalism / Paris / French Revolution / Secret Identities / Revenge / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Motherhood)
Publisher/Publication Date: Triskele Books (2012)
Source: The author.
Rating: Liked a good deal.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The tumultuous fifteen years in the life of an 18th century French village woman, from innkeeper to prisoner to reinvented storyteller.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, What's in a Name?
Do I like the cover?: I really like it -- it's quite lovely and although it has the chopped head motif, the close focus is a nice change (rather than another long tall headless woman). There are plot elements featured on the cover as well.
I'm reminded of...: Michelle Diener, Sidney Sheldon
First line: The early light burns Victoire's cheeks, like a beacon warning her this summer day will bring something special.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you're a Francophile or enjoy dramatic historical fiction.
Why did I get this book?: I love books set during the French Revolution.
Review: This fun historical novel has the wild plot of a Sidney Sheldon with the kind of dramatic machinations of The Count of Monte Cristo (both very good things).
Set between 1768 and 1794, the novel follows Victoire Charpentier, a sweet girl from a rural French village. Her seemingly enchanted life -- loving parents, adored family, a childhood love -- is shattered when her beloved herbalist mother is drowned as a witch.
Sent to Paris as a maid for a noble family, she learns first hand the violent cruelties the wealthy heap upon those less fortunate, and she finds herself pregnant. After giving up her baby, Victoire returns to her home and finds herself married -- not to her childhood love, but to the father of her crush. To her surprise, it proves to be a satisfying relationship, and she and her older husband open a successful inn.
Happiness, however, isn't prone to lingering around Victoire, and tragedy strikes once more with devastating effect. There's prison, a notorious noblewoman, some shocking episodes, wild vengeance, mistaken identities, and a bittersweet ending. (I'm doing broad strokes here to save some surprises!)
With such an extravagant plot, there's potential for a book like this to just turn into a plot heavy 'and then she' style novel, but happily, Perrat balances the action with solid narrative, a nearly too-sweet-to-be-believed heroine, and lavish historical detail that made me think, now and then, I was in revolutionary Paris. (The sensory details of what a Paris street was like made my skin crawl!)
While our heroine Victoire was lovely, I must admit that my heart went to Jeanne de Valois, most infamous for her real life role in the 'affair of the diamond necklace'. It's obvious Perrat feels some warmth for the notorious figure, and her Jeanne is dangerous, amusing, shocking, and sexy. I could go for a whole novel about her! (According to Perrat's website, this is the first in a historical series, so color me excited!)
A delightful debut, this novel was escapist fun -- Francophiles will want this one and those who enjoy historical fiction that doesn't focus on royals will also rejoice. (If you're curious, you can read an excerpt here.) Great fun for the summer -- and I can't wait to see what Perrat does next.
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I'm thrilled to offer Spirit of Lost Angels to THREE lucky winners! One winner will get a paperback copy; two winners will get e-books. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 6/7.