Fortunes of France: City of Wisdom and Blood by Robert Merle and T Jefferson Kline (translator)
|Fortunes of France: City of Wisdom and Blood by Robert Merle and T Jefferson Kline (translator)|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Part 2 in the mammoth French hist fict series moves to 1566 and the next generation. Samson and Pierre may not get into as much swash and buckle as their father did but the historical insights are just as fascinating.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 596||Date: September 2015|
|Publisher: Pushkin Press|
1566: Brothers Pierre and Samson de Siorac have been sent from their Perigore home to further their education at Montpellier. During their time there they learn more than their ascribed logic, philosophy and medicine. Indeed Pierre's focus is on his stomach and the affairs of the heart, as befitting a lusty 15 year old. Not all of the adventures are learned, culinary or romantic though; some lessons are a lot more dangerous.
The late French writer Robert Merle gave us a stonking start to his mammoth Fortunes of France series with The Brethren. Now Jean de Siorac hands the story baton over to his sons, the half-brothers Pierre and Samson. (By the way, this second book can be read as a one-off but if you want to read more about why they're half-brothers and the perils of their father's story, you need to treat yourself to the first book. No hardship at all!)
The narrator is young Pierre, with a hint of maturity as it's written retrospectively, while showing that teenagers haven't changed (even in eras before they were called teenagers). The Catholic Pierre lives with gusto in the belief he can confess away any indiscretions. Therefore between his studies he grabs life by the skirts, determined to squeeze everything he can from it. (Early on we can see why he shows such an interest in the search for the cure for syphilis but not in any graphic way that will scare horses or those with sensibilities in that direction.)
In fact this could be seen more as a story of Pierre's excesses and discoveries against a 16th-century backdrop rather than the more integrated engagement in historic events his father demonstrated in the series' debut. There are also fewer action set pieces this time out, sparsely distributed between Pierre's discoveries in medicine and the bedroom, leaving the quieter Samson more embarrassed and disgusted from his Huguenot viewpoint.
That doesn't mean history is completely subsumed by the lads' rites of passage to manhood. Robert once again brings us some wonderful 'wow' and 'what?' moments as we enjoy the 16th-century university city. One of my favourite factoids was the idea that the more refined French noble would cut their food into equally refined bite-sized pieces with knife and fork before picking them up and placing in their mouths with their fingers.
There are also periods of tension as we realise anew the dangers contained in a religious label as well as those entailed in obtaining medical research material.
City of Wisdom and Blood may be a lull but it still has its place in the series, introducing us to a cunning young hero who'll have his hands full in Book 3. Indeed Heretic Dawn (current publishing date, February 2016) takes Pierre to Paris and a particularly bloody era in a nation that has had its share of them. Personally I can't wait!
(Thank you so much, Pushkin Press, for continuing to share this series with us for review.)
Further Reading: I know I'm being repetitive but please do check out the wonderful The Brethren if you haven't yet. If you're already a fan and like your 16th-century European history to be epic and action-packed, we heartily recommend the more violent but hugely absorbing The Religion by Tim Willocks followed by its more French-focused sequel The Twelve Children of Paris. (Do please read those two in order.)
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