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Mistress of the Revolution (thoughts)

March 27, 2008

Mistress of the RevolutionMistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors tells the story of Gabrielle de Montserrat, a minor French aristocrat during the years leading up to the revolution and, of course, the revolution itself. A brief prologue sets up the format: an older Gabrielle is writing in London in 1815, setting down her memories of that time for herself and her children. So it’s all told from Gabrielle’s point of view and while most is in the past, every once in awhile she interjects a “present day” message to her children. This format works quite well, since Delors keeps the same intimate tone throughout which not only allows Gabrielle to reflect on the many different people she meets without interrupting the flow of the book, but also gives the reader a ringside seat to Gabrielle’s internal journey to adulthood.

Delors has a real talent for drawing the reader directly into the world of pre-Revolutionary France. She conducted a lot of research, and it shows. Take the opening of the first chapter:

“Mademoiselle, your cheeks are smeared with ink,” said Sister Suzanne. “What will My Lord the Marquis think when he sees you like this? You are incorrigible. Remember, child, every time you misbehave you pound the nails of the Good Saviour’s cross deeper into His flesh.”
I looked up. A drop of ink dripped from my quill and splattered on the shaky capital Hthat had given me so much trouble. I rose and held my hands straight in front of me for Sister Suzanne to hit them with her wooden rule. She ignored them and seized me by the arm to lead me out of the classroom.
“Go clean your face,” she said. “Mother Louise needs to see you.”

This sense of immediacy is present throughout, and I think it’s essential for a really compelling historical novel. Also, it helps all of the characters seem more real, since Delors is so thorough in her portrayal of their environment. The author herself is French (she has an informative website and fascinating blog, where you can go to learn more), which might be responsible for the authenticity that the entire book exudes.

Of course, all of the period detail in the world wouldn’t save a flat book. But Mistress of the Revolutionis anything but! Somehow, Delors manages to keep throwing obstacles in Gabrielle’s way, as well as an occasional helping hand, and keep it all realistic. I’m not a big fan of Dickensian coincidences, so I was relieved that the storyline didn’t need any convenient but highly improbably events to keep it moving. And what is that storyline? I don’t want to give away too much, but Gabrielle’s brother weds her to a much older and wealthier cousin of their. A few years later, she finds herself an eighteen-year-old widow, and penniless due to her husband’s final will. She moves to Pairs and has to figure out how to make a life for herself and her little daughter. This is when she starts moving in noble, and eventually royal, circles. This is also when we watch Gabrielle continue to come into her own, at the same time that her country is falling apart at the seams. The amount of the book set during the actual revolution (pleasantly) surprised me; Delors includes enough big-picture stuff to put Gabrielle’s experience in context, but not so much that it feels like a history lesson.

So, Delor’s strengths, as demonstrated in Mistress of the Revoluion are plot, setting, and characters (I just realised I didn’t go much into characters in this review. Suffice it to say, Gabrielle is lovable if a little blind at times, the great love of her life is a man who would do Jane Austen proud, and even the smallest characters are interesting and well-rounded-no stereotypes here). All great reasons to pick it up-it’s a very satisfying read, and I one I highly recommend. Delors is a first-time author, and writing in her second language (which might explain the book’s straightforward style; there are no pyrotechnics in the prose, just strong, solid writing), and she has created rich, realistic characters living in a vibrant world. There is love and hate and tragedy and tenderness and jealousy and sacrifice and more. What else does a novel need?

The fine print: first off, if you want to buy the book I happened to notice that Barnes & Noble has it on the New Arrivals 20% off pyramid. Which is pretty exciting! And, I received a free copy of the book in order to write a review for Delors’ tour through Pump Up Your Book. This didn’t influence my writing at all though. ;)

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2008 8:14 pm

    Mmmm, historical fiction, how I love thee. I’m going to need to pick this up.

  2. March 27, 2008 9:00 pm

    The cover is enough to sell me!

  3. March 27, 2008 10:31 pm

    I agree with Andi: I love this cover!

  4. March 28, 2008 6:59 am

    Great review – it’s affirming it’s place on my tbr list.

  5. March 28, 2008 7:01 am

    OH – wanted to tell you THANK YOU and I upped your entry to 2 on my giveaway AND added another book plus other stuff in order to attract MORE entries… (I’m self-promoting, is that OK?!)

  6. March 28, 2008 1:28 pm

    I’m waiting for a library copy of this. I’m glad it is as good as it looks. And they even kept her head in the cover illustration (publishers seem to enjoy cutting off heads on covers these days!).

  7. March 28, 2008 1:56 pm

    Plot, setting, characters: I got all of this right? Thank you so very much, Eva, for this wonderful review.

    And thank you to your readers for the nice things they say about my cover. I tell the story in today’s entry in my blog:
    http://blog.catherinedelors.com/2008/02/12/birth-of-a-book-cover-a-case-study.aspx

    I could not agree more with Danielle: let’s put an end to the curse of the headless heroine in historical fiction!

  8. March 28, 2008 5:47 pm

    “Delors has a real talent for drawing the reader directly into the world of pre-Revolutionary France.”

    Eva, this is so well said! I couldn’t agree with you more. I am on the lookout for her next book in 2009!

    And thanks for stopping of at J. Kaye’s Book Blog. So nice to have new viewers to comment. Love your blog. :)

  9. March 28, 2008 9:41 pm

    Eva

    I just wanted to drop in and say HI. Great review!

  10. March 29, 2008 9:08 am

    So glad to see your review! I’ve been looking at this one for a while. . . Add another one to the 2009 TBR list. . . :-)

    Lezlie

  11. March 29, 2008 6:53 pm

    Raych, I should read more historical fiction..one of these days!

    Andi, I love the cover too. :)

    Nikki, I’m with you!

    Care, I’m glad you like it! And being self-promoting is what blogs are all about. ;)

    Danielle, lol-they do like headless women.

    Catherine, I’m glad you liked it! Thanks for giving me such a wonderful book to read. :) And your book cover story was very interesting-I’m glad they went w/ the beige lettering.

    J. Kaye, thanks! I’ll definitely be stopping by more in the future. :D And I agree-I can’t wait for the thriller to come out!

    Amy, thanks!

    Lezlie, oh those TBR lists…so long, lol.

  12. February 3, 2011 1:59 pm

    Have been surfing online greater than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It’s pretty worth enough in my situation. I believe, if all webmasters and bloggers made good content when you did, online are going to be much more useful than ever.

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