This was amazing, haunting, and such a unique concept!
I was wondering how six authors would manage to co-write a cohesive story, but they did it by each writing their own novella and interweaving one another’s characters throughout to draw a portrait of the women in the French Revolution. All of them are real historical figures, which makes the story much more compelling to me. Those who stood out most were the aristocrats, because it seemed to me that they were the true victims of the Revolution: Sophie, who married a free-thinking philosopher and advocate for women’s rights, allowing her to blossom into her own woman. Princess Elizabeth, sister to King Louis and his advisor. Charlotte Corday, who assassinated a ruler of the zealous Jacobins. Emilie, touted to be the most beautiful woman in Paris. Nearly all of them met the same fate: Madame Guillotine, for various reasons. But ultimately, the reason was the same: mob mentality shuts down all reason, and their emotionally driven lust for blood consumes any and everyone. In the end, the guillotine claimed not only King Louis and his entire family, but Robespierre, the leader of the Jacobins, too. No one was safe. The impoverished and bloodthirsty citizens of France were the very embodiment of hatred, and demanded the heads of anyone whose views differed in the slightest from their own. And the irony was, it didn’t even seem to accomplish anything in the end. Within a decade of the Revolution’s end, a new emperor had already risen to power: Napoleon. The mob could not rule; they could only destroy.
This throws into sharp relief what the American Founding Fathers had accomplished only a few years earlier, though. Rather than allow us to descend into anarchy like the French did, leaving a vacuum that could only be filled by a dictator, we developed a sustainable government with checks and balances of power. It’s hinted at the end of Ribbons of Scarlet that the Marquis de Lafayette, who had fought by our side in the American Revolution, had harbored hopes that France might blossom into a similar democracy. But that was not to be.
I felt especially sorry for King Louis. He was portrayed as a sanguine, innocent, optimistic guy who truly loved his people and wanted to do right by them. But his sense of integrity prevented him from playing ball once he was rendered little more than a figurehead–all he had left was veto power, and he used it when he thought it was right to do so. It didn’t matter that reason was squarely on his side: the mob could not hear reason. They were led entirely by their anger. Marie Antoinette was far craftier than Louis was, and did everything she could to keep them out of the clutches of the people, but Louis in his naïveté overruled her. (As I listened to this part of the story, the line from “Hamilton: The Musical” kept running through my mind, in which Alexander Hamilton, arguing that we shouldn’t join the French in their Revolution, mockingly asks and answers, “We made a treaty with a king whose head is now in a basket. Should we take it out and ask it? ‘Should we honor our treaty, King Louis’s head?’ ‘Uh, do whatever you want, I’m super dead!'”)
I have to say that I see parallels, though of course far less extreme, to the present political environment. I wonder if the authors chose this topic because they believed it to be timely, as well. When one or both sides are driven entirely by emotions, and their hatred swells to the point of violence, what can be done? Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.
My rating: *****
Language: some, but not overwhelming
Sexual content: some, but tastefully done
Political content: historical only, though they leave us to draw our own conclusions about the present atmosphere
Violence: it’s a violent story. That can’t be helped. But the way it’s told isn’t gratuitous.