Fortunes of France 3: Heretic Dawn by Robert Merle and T Jefferson Kline (translator)

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Fortunes of France 3: Heretic Dawn by Robert Merle and T Jefferson Kline (translator)

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: In this, Book 3, we follow Pierre di Siorac through Paris' St Bartholomew's massacre of the Huguenots but there's plenty of time for recreation first! A rollicking, action packed and, in places, harrowing, volume that's the best yet.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 600 Date: February 2016
Publisher: Pushkin Press
ISBN: 978-1782271932

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France 1568: Having persuaded his father Jean that it's safe for him to return to his studies, Pierre de Siorac goes back to Montpellier. He doesn’t stay there long though as Jean has a mission for him that will take him into the royal court in Paris. The fighting between the Medici-led Catholics and the Huguenots has quietened down but, despite sending his son into the vipers' nest, he's reluctant to consider the Peace of St Germain as being the end of the conflict. History will prove his suspicions correct as we approach the St Bartholomew Massacre of the Huguenots which occurs… in Paris.

The translated third volume of the late Robert Merle's Fortunes of France series places us once again in the company of the younger members of the de Siorac family. Pierre, his half-brother Samson and servant Mirouc also acquire a new travelling companion. Italian Giacomi proves to be incredibly helpful as well as entertaining.

Indeed, this is the most absorbing of the series so far. There's no sign of the interesting but lengthy scientific explanations that accompanied the action in Book 2. Pierre qualifies as a doctor and Samson finds an opportunity to use his apothecary skills on their travels but the concentration is on fighting and some great historical insight and a bit of womanising too.

Pierre's quest may be to find his beloved Angelina but he's not going to say no to some nocturnal exercise on the way. However it's Paris' story that moves front and centre this time, providing us with a great view from a great guide.

It's told in Pierre's first person narrative as an older man so we know he survives, but what a tale to live through!

Robert finds a credible way of sending Pierre and party to the wedding preparations and actual nuptials of Margo and Henri de Navarre. The de Sioracs aren't just there for a good time though: Pierre's father would like a pardon from the king. I don't fancy his chances; overseen by the devious Catherine de Medici who practically rules France at this time, everyone is preoccupied with the marriage built on a powder keg. A union of Catholic Margo and Huguenot Henri may look like a sign of peaceful tolerance, but Catherine has other reasons. The events that follows are anything but peaceful!

Robert expertly conveys the paranoia and horror engendered by the darker events as they unfold. The possibility of escape is limited: extreme youth and gender or even really being a Catholic rather than a Huguenot isn’t a defence once the red mist descends.

Robert also continues to provide wonderfully inserted factoids. This time, among other things, we learn the origin of tennis (both the game and the word) and witness the necessity of a post-duel body examination to check it's a lawful kill.

Any idea that this is a dry history lesson is wiped out by Robert's ability to write with a twinkle in his eye. For instance, the domestic that Samson and Pierre walk in on in Paris is a smile-worthy classic. As for our author's turn of phrase… Our old friend Fogacer is affirmed as gay in the most subtle and yet telling way: we're told that when he read the book of life, he skipped the feminine pages.

Each volume may be built like a house brick to look at but it's not at all brick like in the reading. It's a series that I'm not even remotely tired of yet. In fact each episode creates a hunger for the next so, as soon as they can translate and publish Book 4, I'll be there!

(Thank you to Pushkin Press for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you've already read Book 1 and Book 2 and would like to continue a 16th century sojourn through Europe, we definitely recommend A Name in Blood by Matt Rees, a fictionalised account leading up to Caravaggio's disappearance in Borgia-dominated Italy.

Buy Fortunes of France 3: Heretic Dawn by Robert Merle and T Jefferson Kline (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fortunes of France 3: Heretic Dawn by Robert Merle and T Jefferson Kline (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Fortunes of France 3: Heretic Dawn by Robert Merle and T Jefferson Kline (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fortunes of France 3: Heretic Dawn by Robert Merle and T Jefferson Kline (translator) at Amazon.com.


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