Normally, this probably wouldn't have been the kind of book I would have chosen if I was in a bookstore, considering the title says “A story of the French Revolution”. Not being a History buff, that would have been a first-glance turn off, but I was pleasantly surprised.
The story does center around the French Revolution but tells a wonderful tale of a handful of fictional characters who are all tied in with one another. Small world.
I will keep the spoilers to a minimum, since I'm shooting for more of a review here, and not a series breakdown.
The story begins with us meeting Yann, Tetu, and Topolain, three misfit Characters who make up their own traveling magic show. Yann can read minds and throw his voice, Topolain is a magician who is known for catching a bullet in midair, and Tetu works a wooden doll seemingly without touching it. What appears to be a lucky break for them one night, ends in disaster and leaves them tangled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with our Antagonist Count Kalliovski, who is a man of dark and dangerous secrets, and will do anything to keep his secrets, well, secretive. All the while the whole of France is crumbling around them.
The story is very well written, and in the entire six hour audiobook, I don't remember ever being bored. While there are some slow spots, I wasn't feeling like I was ready to stab myself if it would just mean I could get back to the good stuff! Miss Gardner has a wonderful way of keeping you interested in the story the entire way through.
For those of you who don't care for History, you are not bogged down with a ton of Politics in this Novel. Yes, it does play an important part in the story, but it's not to the point where you feel like you are sitting at a desk listening to a five hour lecture. It's kind of a small history review, but in a fun way so you don't even realize it.
There are a few good plot twists in here as well that I didn't see coming, and that is always a plus. The foreshadowing is excellently done. At the end we are left with a very important piece of knowledge that makes you eager to find out the end of Yann and Sido’s story.
There are, as I said, quite a few characters to keep track of in this tale but it's not so confusing that you have to keep a handwritten list in the back of the book.
Our main Protagonists are Yann and Sido, both younger children (12 and 14) to start, with very different upbringings. Sido, is the daughter of The Marquis de Villeduval, a foolish, heartless man who cares for nothing but his riches, and hates Sido with a bitter indifference. She was raised in a Convent after the death of her mother, and is brought back for a party at her father's Chateu, and that is when her adventures begin. She is a quiet girl, kind hearted, but with a great amount of courage and firm devotion to her Father, hoping that someday maybe he will love her.
Yann, is an independent, smart and resourceful boy, who never knew his parents and was raised by the Dwarf Tetu. He is a very likeable Character, admits his wrongs, and is determined to do what he thinks is right, no matter the dangers to his own life. He is deeply devoted to Tetu, and eventually Sido as their lives become intertwined.
Kalliovski is the villain down to the bone, murderous and crafty, and he keeps you on your toes as you read. By the end you are waiting in line behind Yann to strangle him.
The Romance is very sweet and tender, but not heavily thrown throughout the book, so if you are not a huge fan of lovey relationships in books, you should be happy with this one.
Things I didn't like:
Admittedly there is only one thing in this story that had me really frowning, and that was the Gypsy magic. I am not usually opposed to magic, this is the kind that can make you a bit uncomfortable. However, since the story tells so many other things and the magic isn’t a constant central element, I was able to let it slide.
A Gypsy woman reads Yann's palm and tells his future. Tetu and Yann can read minds, and move objects without touching them. While normally, those last two would not bother me, the Gypsies believe that every object has a spirit, and if you “listen close enough you can hear the sounds they make”. Yann learns to move objects by learning to see the invisible “Threads of Light” connected to them, and he does this by visiting a Gypsy man who takes him to a clearing at night, plays a soundless flute, and makes a transparent woman appear. She touches Yann, giving him the sense that he was “leaving his body” and takes him up in the sky, showing him a glimpse of an event that happened in one of the Character's pasts and upon returning to the ground, he can now see the Threads of Light. You have a faint idea that this woman is some kind of wise Spirit, who takes Yann's spirit and somehow gives him the ability to see the Threads. While there is no definite explanation for this, it still left me a bit twitchy.
Yann also accepts a good luck charm (talisman) from the old gypsy man, “the shell of shells”.
The ghost of Yann's mother shows up briefly and helps a Character, and a voice had whispered to Yann early on that he was in danger, so I speculate it was his Mother that time too.
Kalliovski wishes to become a powerful Shaman, one of his goals being to discover the secret to creating life itself.
There is talk of ”fate,” “destiny” and “luck” among the Characters, especially Yann, but God is rarely mentioned, and not at all attributed to any of the events that take place.
About the Audiobook:
Since this is how I “read” the story I feel like I need to say a bit about it as well. Tom Hiddleston adds a wonderful touch to this story with his many (excellent) voices for each Character, and his ability to read it aloud in an interesting way. Curl up in a chair or your bed with a cup of hot chocolate or coffee, turn on the Audiobook, and I'd call it a fantastic way to spend a chilly Saturday afternoon.
However, I did notice that when I picked up the paperback after it arrived in the mail and began reading through it, that the Audiobook was edited down significantly. Dialogue was shortened, sentences as well, and even some smaller paragraphs and sections taken out. Nothing super important so that you will miss key parts to the story, but even still an annoyance to me. The Characters are a bit more…..well, to use the words of The Mad Hatter, “muchier” in the actual book, and I wish they had left it alone. There is a second Audiobook, done by another narrator, but i haven’t heard that one, so i don’t know if it is the same way or not.
So to sum up the story, it's an interesting well written historical tale involving many excellent Characters, though it is not without it’s flaws. I look forward to it's sequel, “The Silver Blade”.