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For the King Hardcover – July 8, 2010
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
Delors follows Mistress of the Revolution with a gripping historical that chronicles the efforts of a young police inspector to capture the men responsible for trying to kill Napoleon Bonaparte. After a botched assassination attempt on Napoleon kills several bystanders, chief inspector Roch Miquel races to find the men responsible. His investigation is hindered by corruption and jealousy among his colleagues in the police force, notably from Fouché, the stridently unsavory minister of police, who, in order to keep Roch under his thumb, imprisons Roch's father under false pretenses and threatens to have him deported. Meanwhile, Roch finds some comfort in his married mistress, Blanche Coudert, who has a very unfortunate secret that will harshly complicate Roch's already precarious situation. It's not a surprise that Delors's sympathies are with her hero, and his adversaries are depicted as satisfyingly despicable. Themes of class conflict, the messy process of change, and impossible love are nicely woven into the tense central plot of this fast-moving chase through the damp, rutted streets of turn-of-the-19th-century Paris. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Similar in plot, style, and setting to Balzac's The Chouans, Delors' uneven second novel (following Mistress of the Revolution, 2008) bogs down under the weight of a mixture of French terms, tangential details, and a large cast of characters, most of whom are referred to by nicknames, titles, proper names, and surnames. Readers who persevere, however, will be struck by the author's evocation of eighteenth-century Paris: the physical descriptions of post-Revolutionary life, the unsavory and treacherous political climate, and the blatant injustice and corruption perpetrated under Napoléon Bonaparte. Chief Inspector Roch Miquel, of the Police Prefecture, disliked by both his colleagues and superiors, nearly ruins himself and his father in the course of his investigations into an explosive attempt on Napoléon's life on the Rue Nicaise (later known as the Machine Infernale). Unfortunately, love-struck Miquel's blundering leaves him in the readers' dust when it comes to solving the puzzle. Stick with this one for the atmosphere, but for a better mix of history and intrigue, try Susanne Alleyn's Aristide Ravel mysteries. --Jen Baker
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all the clues provided. No cheating here.
I did feel a connection with the fictional
hero as he was on a time limited investigation
to find the real perpetrator/s of the terrorist
attack on Napoleon or an innocent man would face
I enjoyed seeing the change in her hero, the
fictional police chief inspector Roch Miquel
as he is also stymied in his work by coworkers who
do not like him and a boss who manipulates him.
He learns from his experiences.
There is also dramatic foreshadowing for what is
to come for France under Napoleon.
But it is as a thriller that it is most satisfying.
Until next time Ms. Delors,
I wanted to like this book, I really, truly did. It was one of the few historical novels I`ve found that was set in France and didn't involve distorted views of the Revolution, to include foppish English aristocrats rescuing useless French aristocrats. Rather, it was set during the Consulate period, after the Revolution, when things had returned to a time of stability and normalcy. It is the story of Chief Inspector Roch Miquel, who has been charged with trying to discover the identities of those who had attempted to assassinate First Consul Bonaparte on 24 December 1800. It is therefore a police procedural, relying not on the high-tech wonders of CSI but on the methods available at the turn of the 19th century--the powers of observation, deduction, pragmatism, and dogged determination. It doesn't matter that we already know who did it--history tells us exactly who the bad guys were, and what motivated them. It is instead the fun of the chase, wondering if Miquel will get there in the end, despite the many obstacles thrown in his way. And to make it even better, for me at least, the author was born and raised in France and, according to the blurb, still spends much of her time in Paris. So what could go wrong with a French author writing about an interesting tidbit of French history?
Unfortunately, too many things. I didn't like this book much, after all. Its greatest sin, for me, is that it never once felt French, in its locale, the language spoken by its characters, or even the history itself that forms the backdrop for the novel. The action takes place in Paris, but the author set her story more in the Paris she visits rather than in the one that existed in 1800, and thus she has some awkward trouble with the nomenclature of buildings, bridges, and streets. She uses pre-Revolutionary names for most of the locations in the novel, or either uses both. For instance, First Consul Bonaparte was going to the premiere of Haydn's "Creation" when the attack occurred, but the premiere was not at the Paris Opéra, as it is called in the book, but at the Theatre de la Révolution et des Artes. Very well, that's a mouthful, but at least it's an accurate mouthful. While it is true the home of the former duc d'Orléans was renamed the Palais-Égalité during the Revolution, it appears as both the Palais-Royal and the Palais-Égalité in the book. The same is true of the former Pont-Royal, renamed the Pont-Liberté, or as it is sometimes called, "Liberty Bridge. Consistency would have been a nice touch. There are several instances when street names are translated--"Paradise Street" for Rue de Paradis, when it isn't necessary and sounds distinctly odd. Even more bizarre is the construction "the Isle of the Cité," a sort of half-French, half English oddity that makes little sense. Readers are sophisticated enough to understand the place names without this unfortunate quirk. At best, they are amateurish, and at worst, they jerk the reader straight out of the story.
The same sort of confusion exists with the language used by the characters, including the protagonist, Roch Miquel. We know they all speak French, so there is no need to sprinkle French words about to remind us. However, this specific historical period still used the republican forms of address of "citizen" and "citizeness," or better, "citoyen" and "citoyenne," rather than the Ancien Régime monsieur, madame, and mademoiselle. Since Bonaparte was routinely referred to as Citoyen Premier Consul, as contemporary documents show, it is logical to assume the rest of the citizens of Paris, and indeed of France, would also be correctly addressed. Instead, the characters address each other as monsieur and citizen interchangeably, sometimes in sentences closely following each other. They also address female characters as madame, mademoiselle, and citizen as it suits them, apparently. To add to the confusion and general inaccuracy, several characters use the word "Sir" in addressing each other. There is certainly no historical or linguistic reason for this usage, which is distinctly English.
The language oddities continue with the attempt to depict working class speech. The result is most unfortunate. One person describes another as "...all pale and odd-looking, he was," while a street urchin sings a ditty, "Let's `ear the true tale of the most `orrible attack..." I thought I was supposed to be in Paris, not East London or among Eliza Doolittle's relatives. I am also at a loss to understand why proper names were Anglicized. Why have a character state the Chouan leader's proper name, Georges Cadoudal, and then in every following instance, he and other characters refer to him as George? I wondered also about referring to the protagonist's father, the owner of the improbably-named French tavern, the Mighty Barrel, as Old Miquel. It is equivalent to calling someone Old Jones to distinguish himself from his son. Finally, Roch Miquel, his father, and Alexandrine often speak to each other in what is called "the Roman language," purportedly a distinct language or dialect from the Auvergne region of France. Since that dialect had its origins in the Occitan language, the term "Roman" is misleading, since it does not refer to Latin, nor is it the common term for Occitan, Provencal, or any other the other derivative dialects in the region. Why not simply say they spoke an Auvergnat dialect? At least then we would all get it.
There were few major historical glitches, fortunately. I did find amusing, however, the description that First Consul Bonaparte often "drove around Paris in a carriage...at the sound of trumpets, drums [and] artillery salvos." I get the drums and trumpets, but the salvos would have been difficult to manage anywhere outside of the Champ de Mars, for instance. With respect to the short carriage ride to the Theatre de la Révolution et des Artes, there was no dragoon escort in front of Bonaparte's carriage--there were no dragoons anywhere. There was, however, a grenadier escort behind the carriage. So the bit about the dragoons seeing the suspicious activity around the horse and cart on the Rue Nicaise is invention. The coachman was already driving at a good clip because he'd been drinking and was in a hurry, so the "in haste" part of this incident was correct. I am, however, still scratching my head over Roch Miquel's attempt to find "the plate" supposedly attached to the cart. Did this mean that broken-down farm carts were required to have some sort of identification plates attached to them, similar to a modern-day vehicle license plate? Never heard of such a requirement, at least not at that time. It's easy, I suppose, to refer to the French Republic's territorial gains in Germany and Italy, but since those nations did not exist by those names before 1871, it looks sloppy. The same is true for the small matter of the population of Paris--it wasn't 700,000, as claimed in a couple of places. In 1800, it was less than 574,000 living inside the administrative limits of the city. None of these examples constitutes a particularly egregious error, but lots of little mistakes whittle away at the overall credibility of the story.
I could have overlooked some of the historical and linguistic difficulties if the characters had been more engaging and more dimensional. Sadly, they were lacking in many respects. I never could connect with Roch Miquel in the slightest--he is a cold fish from first to last, even when he is supposedly in love with--or lusting after--Blanche Coudert, and during the difficulties he faces when his father was imprisoned. We are told about all the inter-office politics and the dislike directed toward him, but none of it is adequately explained, much less shown, so that it seems not to affect Miquel in any significant way. He talks about plots, disagreements, and attempts to discredit him, but I never got any sense that they are either real or that he feels much about them one way or another. He seems so one-dimensional, so static, and when he finally makes some decisions at the end of the novel, I was left with a "so what?" feeling. Nothing much that he does, including finding the culprits, has much texture, much emotion, much of anything. Had I been Alexandrine, the only character besides the oddly named Old Miquel with any dimension, I would have slapped him, hard. Blanche is more a parody of an Ancien Régime social butterfly than a believable woman committed to a cause fraught with danger and alleged sacred purpose. The character with the most potential is Joseph Fouché, but that potential is sadly wasted, mired in a couple of sensationalist references to the executions at Lyon in 1793--misrepresented as being at Robespierre's instigation--with no attempt to utilize any of Fouché's complexities. The only well-drawn characters are the conspirators, the bad guys, as it were. They come across as perfectly awful, and a joy to dislike. The good guys? Not so much.
So I was disappointed with this book--by the misuse of language, the lack of any real sense of historical Paris, either the city of the time, the humdrum characters, the historical missteps, and, more than anything, the missed opportunities. I wish I could review the book I wanted to read, rather than the book I did read. There are other authors who write far superior mysteries set in Paris or set close to this time period, who get the history, the setting, and the language correct. The best of course, are the Aristide Ravel mysteries by Susanne Alleyn, with C. S. Harris and her Sebastian St. Cyr novels offering a second, slightly different venue. Both are far superior to this one.
“For the King” is more of an historical mystery or thriller than the standard historical fiction. At first I was disappointed in the style but the further I read along and once I had fitted all the pieces together I thought it was an astute strategy, a good combination that vividly portrayed the struggles happening in France during the post-revolution and a satisfying fashion to pull the tale together. Of course I am certain Ms. Delors took some historical liberties and has created fictional characters to breathe life into her story but nevertheless has based her words on real events and figures. The story is told from three different points of views in a narration smeared with long passages and flowery descriptions.
The story deals with the investigation which followed the attack, which, although it failed to harm Napoleon, killed and maimed many other people. The central character is Roch Miquel, the son of a tavern owner who has risen to be Chief of Police and has a beautiful mistress. All through the story Miguel hunts down the assassins but his investigation is complicated by the maneuverings of his superior, the indiscretions of his father, a former Jacobin and of his love interest….
“For the King” is an interesting novel that plays out more of a mystery than anything else.
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