Review by Booklist Review
Mantel's two-volume reconstruction of the French Revolution is an epic of extraordinary detail and depth. The author moves well beyond the standard literary treatment of these harrowing events as a vivid and dramatic backdrop for a grand adventure, painstakingly immersing the reader in the economic, political, and social milieu that spawned the republican movement in late eighteenth-century France. The plot re~volves around the lives and times of three of the most prominent architects of revolutionary fervor in Paris. The destinies of three young members of the bourgeoisie--Maximilien Robespierre, the seemingly awkward and diffident leader of the Jacobin Club; Georges Jacques Danton, the pragmatic attorney and mesmerizing orator; and Camille Desmoulins, the romantic and impassioned journalist--are inextricably bound together as they are swept up into the vortex of rebellion and national liberation. While these three staunch allies and friends support and promote one another, they represent an indomitable triumvirate, casting an enormous shadow over the course of the early years of the revolution. However, when Danton and Desmoulins begin to caution moderation during the height of the infamous Reign of Terror, Robespierre ultimately feels obliged to betray them in the name of the republic. Ironically and inevitably, each individual protagonist is victimized and destroyed by the revolution they collectively engendered. Absolutely compelling and stunning historical fiction that moves beyond the realm of an absorbing yarn into the arena of a literary masterpiece. ~--Margaret Flanagan
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
``History is fiction,'' Robespierre observes at one point during British writer Mantel's monumental fictive account of the French Revolution, her first work to appear in this country. In her hands, it is a spellbinding read. Mantel recounts the events between the fall of the ancien regime and the peak of the Terror as seen through the eyes of the three protagonists--Robespierre, Danton and Desmoulins--and a huge cast of supporting characters (including brief appearances by the scrofulous Marat). The three revolutionaries, longtime acquaintances, spend their days scheming and fighting for a corruption-free French Republic, but their definitions of ``corrupt'' are as different as the men themselves. Robespierre is the fulcrum. Rigidly puritanical, he is able to strike terror into the most stalwart of hearts, and his implacable progress towards his goal makes him the most formidable figure of the age. As the lusty, likable and ultimately more democratic Danton observes, it is impossible to hurt anyone who enjoys nothing. The feckless, charming Camille Desmoulins, loved by all but respected by few, dances between the two, writing incendiary articles to keep the flames of revolt alive. Mantel makes use of diaries, letters, transcripts and her own creative imagination to create vivid portraits of the three men, their families, friends and the character of their everyday lives. Her gift is such that we hang on to every word, following bewildering arguments and Byzantine subplots with eager anticipation. This is historical fiction of the first order. History Book Club, QPB and BOMC alternates. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
The turmoil of the French Revolution provides the setting for Mantel's American debut, an encompassing historical novel. The principal protagonists--Robespierre, Desmoulins, and Danton--are portrayed in depth as real people, from their troubled childhoods through their downfalls. Interspersed with their stories are the lesser dramas being enacted in this turbulent era, including the loves, rivalries, successes, and despair of the many participants. The author does a commendable job of presenting the metamorphosis of the revolution from its tenuous, fledgling state to the bloodbath of the Reign of Terror, which ultimately turned on its own. The author's terse writing style may be a challenge to some, recommending this novel for serious readers of the genre. BOMC, History Book Club, and Quality Paperback Book Club alternates.-- Maria A. Perez-Stable, Western Michigan Univ. Libs., Kalamazoo (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
British novelist Mantel weighs in with her American debut: a massively impressive, painstakingly detailed saga of the French Revolution as its leaders lived it. Citizens Danton, Desmoulins, and Robespierre are the primary figures in this historical epic, as each moves from provincial beginnings to Paris and a larger-than-life status in the heady days of revolutionary fervor and terrible excess. Lawyers all, their inclinations and positions allow them to step into roles for which they are well-suited: Danton as the manly, vainglorious hero, as committed and bold as he is self-interested; Robespierre as the tireless conscience of the Revolution, reluctant to accept the power thrust upon him but with an ascetic temperament that brooks no compromises with lesser mortals when he does; and Desmoulins, the go-between, flamboyant and inflammatory, devoted to his friends and sexually ambivalent. Each man moves to his separate but equal destiny through a rich field of characters and images, with wives and family members, sans-culottes and royalty, friends and supporters all revealed in telling detail. The intricacies of political maneuvering in a time of social upheaval are handled with sensitivity and wonderful dexterity, with the final crack in the revolutionary facade that brought Robespierre to turn his allies over to the executioners--in effect destroying all they had struggled together to build--being evident long before it becomes visible. Re-creating the fullness of history with its wealth of human faces and failings, this is a lively, engrossing tale of power, glory, and despair.
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