Mistress of the Revolution
Author: Catherine Delors
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Reviewed by: Cheryl C. Malandrinos
Well-drawn characters, gripping storylines, and rich descriptions fill the pages of debut author Catherine Delors‘s Mistress of the Revolution.
Set during the years leading up to and through the French Revolution, this epic novel finds young noblewoman Gabrielle de Montserrat falling in love with commoner Pierre-Andre Coffinhal. Her brother forbids their union and forces her into a marriage to an aging and wealthy cousin who mistreats her.
After the sudden and unexpected death of her abusive husband, Gabrielle goes to Paris to make a life for her and her young daughter, Aimee. As the threat of revolution hangs overhead, Gabrielle becomes a kept woman and a lady in the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. When Gabrielle is faced with the guillotine, she reaches out to Pierre-Andre, who had fled to Paris to become a lawyer when he was denied her hand in marriage. The two lovers search for a way to hold onto each other, as violence swirls around them; pulling everyone and everything into its grasp.
Every so often I pick up a book whose hook has such dramatic impact that I must read it again. Such is the case with Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors. Many years in the future, the narrator, Gabrielle tells of the exhuming of the bodies of the late King and Queen of France, thereby setting the scene for all that will unfold in subsequent pages.
While a first person narrative often distances the reader from the story, Gabrielle never once distracted me from all that was happening in and around France in the late 1700’s. A tremendous amount goes on within the 450 pages of this fascinating and captivating novel. Fully explored were the relationships between Gabrielle and her family, Pierre-Andre, her lover Villers, Aimee, and the friendships she maintained and lost through the years. Rich and vivid details flowed throughout, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into a story that realistically portrayed the plight of the late 18th century woman and the tragic events that unfolded in France during the reign of King Louis XVI and beyond.
My one and only disappointment is the cover. The artwork was taken from a famous painting titled, The Stolen Kiss, by Jean Honore Fragonard. The image was reversed so that the table and chair are on the left and the gentleman stealing the kiss on the right. I would much have preferred to have seen more of the image of the gentleman–which is hidden inside the book flap–than the furniture, but it is still a strikingly handsome cover.
Mistress of the Revolution is a story of impossible love pitted against the most tumultuous time period in France’s history. It is a novel that will reward the reader in every aspect and leave her desiring to read it again as soon as the last word is read. I eagerly look forward to the next book by talented newcomer Catherine Delors.