The city of tears by Kate Mosse

Minou Joubert and her family are living in Puivert after the dramatic events of 10 years ago. They take care of Huguenot refugees as the religious wars are still raging across France. When they receive an invitation to the marriage of the Huguenot prince Henri Of Navarra to the catholic Marguerite of Valois, Minou and Piet leave for Paris with their children Martha and Jean-Jacques. In the meantime, their arch enemy bishop Vidal is looking for documents of Piet’s mother in Amsterdam.

The city of tears opens ten years after the events of ‘The burning chambers‘. Minou is now the lady of Puivert and Piet, injured from yet another battle, is harboring refugees in their village. But a royal marriage promises peace and Piet and Minou are invited to Paris. When their five-year-old daughter Martha vanishes on the 22nd of August 1572 and blood is shed in the streets Paris, the family flees to Amsterdam.

Mosse takes you to the bloody events of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. One of the most dark chapters in the history of France. It’s the first time I read about it from another perspective than Catherine De Medici and the royal family (as was the case in ‘The devil’s queen‘ and ‘Queen Jezebel‘). Afterwards, we arrive in Amsterdam during the Eighty Year’s War with Spain. Amsterdam is still a catholic city but protestants are crying in the streets for change. I love how Mosse takes me to the 16th century but without the traditional focus on The Tudors. This is also fascinating European history, but often overlooked.

It’s again a very smartly crafted novel. It blends the lives of two families with real historical events. This of course means that sometimes there are some coincidences to make it work, but that didn’t bother me. As in ‘The burning chambers’, a part of the plot surrounds around the parentage of one of the main characters. Another plot centers around Vidal and his son Louis looking for relics around France. But I still preferred the historical context and the storylines that focused on Minou and her relationship with her husband, children and other relatives.

I believe I enjoyed this book even more than ‘The burning chambers’, as the characters were already familiar to me and the historical setting was even more gripping. I’m really curious to see how the next book will play out as we already got two prologues set almost 300 years later in South-Africa. But as this sequel isn’t out yet, I’ll first start with her other trilogy set in France of which ‘Labyrinth‘ is the first part.

This is book 6 for #20booksofsummer.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Kate Mosse? What’s your favourite historical novel set in France?

The burning chambers by Kate Mosse

Minou Joubert receives a strange anonymous letter in her father’s bookshop in Carcasonne. ‘She knows that you live’, it says. A few moments later, she helps the Huguenot Piet Reydon flee the city after he was falsely accused of a murder and the theft of a holy relic. When she and her brother are sent to Toulouse, she meets Piet again. But in Toulouse the strive between Catholics and Huguenots is coming to a climax. And it seems that the lady of Puivert, Blanche, is looking for Minou. But why?

I’ve never been really interested in Mosse’s books because I thought they were more Dan Brown themed books with people looking for the Holy Grail. But still I’ve heard a lot of good things about ‘The burning chambers‘ (which is the first part in a trilogy) and the setting during the Huguenot wars in France drew me in. And now, I’m regretting I didn’t try her books sooner.

I expected entertainment and a historical mystery and that’s more or less what you get. The book opens in Carcasonne where both Piet and Minou have a mystery to solve. Minou receives a strange letter after her father has never recovered from a journey earlier this year. Piet reconnects with an old friend, now a renowned bishop, but he gets himself unwillingly accused of a murder. With Minou’s help, he can flee back to Toulouse where he’s one of the leaders of the Huguenot resistance.

When Minou and her brother Aimeric travel to Toulouse to live with their catholic uncle and aunt, they find themselves trapped in a city full of religious unrest. Already some Huguenots have been killed in other cities in the Midi and also in Toulouse blood will flow. Here, Minou and Piet will meet again and they’ll dependent on each other to make it out of the city alive.

I could relate quickly with Minou, as she is a young and intelligent woman trying to make sense of the world. It took me some more time to connect with Piet but the pair of them make for great main characters. At the same time, there are a lot of side characters that I enjoyed reading about. Such as Minou’s younger sister Alis, the kind madame Noubel, Minou’s troubled aunt Madame Boussay and her cold sister-in-law.

Mosse brings the historical context of the Huguenots to life flawlessly. You feel the tension growing stronger on the streets of Toulouse. Mosse also tries to incorporate the court politics of Catherine De Medici in the story, but if you don’t know about the real history that might be more difficult to follow. In some way, this all reminded me of the excellent darkness to light trilogy of Golden Keyes Parsons, although that one is set in a different century.

The next book, City of Tears, will bring Piet and Minou to Paris during the st. bartholomew’s day massacre and I’m looking forward to see how their story will continue.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The queen’s dressmaker by Meghan Masterson

Versailles, 1789. Giselle is one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women and hopes to draw her own dresses one day. But revolution is looming in the streets of Paris and Giselle gets herself involved in a riot. She’s saved by Léon, a young revolutionary, and soon the two of them start to develop an intimate friendship. When things get worse and the king and queen are blamed, Giselle needs to choose between her loyalty to the queen and her revolutionary friends.

I was happy to get a chance to read ‘The queen’s dressmaker‘, a reissue of ‘The wardrobe mistress’, Masterson’s debut novel that already was on my TBR. It tells the story of Giselle, a wardrobe women of Marie Antoinette and is set in the final years of her life during the revolution.

Although I love French history, Marie Antoinette isn’t one of my favourite historical figures. I believe she wouldn’t be that famous without her dreadful end. As a queen she didn’t get a chance to change things. Or rather: she didn’t grab the chance for change.

What I loved about this story is that it also shows the bloody and fearful side of the revolution. The events of 1789 and the coming years are glorified nowadays, but it were uncertain times and the terror that followed the execution of the monarchs made many victims. You walk with Giselle through the street of Paris where no one is quite sure how things will play out as royalists and Jacobins can’t agree on the role of the king in their new regime.

I also enjoyed the portrayal of Marie Antoinette. You feel some sympathy for her, while at the same time she behaves herself as a snob not understanding the real threat of the revolution. But this is Giselle’s story, not Marie Antoinette’s. I liked her character and the fact that she’s constantly in between two conflicting loyalties. There’s also a heavy romance. And as you know, I’m usually not a big fan of those, but I did become quite invested in it this time. But for the wrong reasons. I didn’t think Léon deserved Giselle so I became quite mad at him sometimes 😅.

In the end, this book couldn’t really grip me as much as I would liked it to. The second part is certainly a lot better than the first but the ending is a bit sudden. I had hoped to know a bit more about what happens next to the characters. But this is a good read for anyone interested in the French Revolution and/or Marie Antoinette.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

The man in the iron mask by Alexandre Dumas

Our hero d’Artagnan is in the service of king Louis XIV as captain of The Musketeers. What he doesn’t know is that his friends Aramis and Porthos are plotting to remove the king. On the countryside, Raoul is still heartbroken over his love for Louise de la Vallière, the king’s mistress. His father Athos tries to console him. And in the Bastille, a young prisoner Philippe who bears a likeness to Louis, has no idea of the crime he has committed. These events will bring the former musketeers to opposing sides of a conflict at the heart of the Sun King’s court.

The man in the iron mask is the last part in the d’Artagnan romances. As I haven’t read the other books, apart from the first ‘The three musketeers’, I needed some time to understand what has happened before. Some day, I hope to read all these books again in order. Quite a task, I know.

The book opens with a strong prologue where Aramis visits a prisoner in the Bastille. We quickly discover our former musketeer, who is now bishop of Varenne, has contrived a plot against the king. Slowly, the other musketeers appear in the story and I did find the first few chapters very compelling and funny. There are a few scenes at a tailor’s shop that made me laugh out loud.

But when Aramis’ plot falls apart in the middle of the novel, the story does the same. Our attention moves to minister Fouquet and his fall out of grace with the king. There’s also the subplot of Raoul and Athos that I found a bit messy, but that might be because I haven’t read the previous books. Towards the end, the story grows stronger again and I did enjoy the last few chapters. I believe this is a great end to the series and to the lives of these characters that I love so much.

Maybe this book lacks a Milady De Winter or some other villain against which the musketeers can stand together. Now they are at opposing sides while still honoring their friendship. But nonetheless this is again a great piece of storytelling from Dumas and also a fine look into a fascinating part of French history.

This is book 2/50 for the Classics club.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

What’s your favourite Alexandre Dumas novel?