REVIEW: A Refuge Assured by Jocelyn Green
Lacemaker Vivienne Rivard never imagined her craft could threaten her life. Yet in revolutionary France, it is a death sentence when the nobility, and those associated with them, are forced to the guillotine. Vivienne flees to Philadelphia but finds the same dangers lurking in the French Quarter, as revolutionary sympathizers threaten the life of a young boy left in her care, who some suspect to be the Dauphin. Can the French settlement, Azilum, offer permanent refuge?
Militiaman Liam Delaney proudly served in the American Revolution, but now that the new government has imposed an oppressive tax that impacts his family, he barely recognizes the democracy he fought for. He wants only to cultivate the land of his hard-won farm near Azilum, but soon finds himself drawn into the escalating tension of the Whiskey Rebellion. When he meets a beautiful young Frenchwoman recently arrived from Paris, they will be drawn together in surprising ways to fight for the peace and safety for which they long.
Dear Ms. Green,
While reading historical novels, I love it when I learn something completely new to me and the book does a good job evoking a past time and place. This book does both and in two countries with bonus points for a great cover. It is, however, more historical fiction than historical romance in feel.
Vivienne Rivard has made her living doing something that can now get her arrested in revolutionary France: lacemaking. Along with other trades that had mainly catered to the nobility, it is a crime and one which cost her Aunt Rose her life. The horror of the bloodshed in Paris is depicted in a scene that isn’t too graphic but which nonetheless is chilling. Tragedy continues for Vivienne as she loses her mother to the scourge that stalked Sybelle’s profession as a courtesan – the pox. But it is through her mother that Vivienne manages to escape France before she could lose her own head.
Now beginning a new life in Philadelphia, Vivienne is determined to look forward instead of back as do so many other émigrés. She’s not too proud to take whatever job she can and to grab at opportunities. It is through this that she gets to know a former lady-in-waiting to the Queen and Martine’s young son as well as a man who had fought for American liberty from Britain. Liam Delany was an officer under Alexander Hamilton during the Revolution and what he sees happening now in western Pennsylvania frustrates and concerns him. Like him, many of his subordinates converted their wartime payment into land but to make a living, they distill their rye into whiskey as it’s easier to barter, transport and sell. The nascent US government is determined to control this and a clash of taxation for a strong central government vs individual liberties looks inevitable.
As Liam’s family is caught up in the battle that could tear the young nation apart, Vivienne wrestles with the claim a man from her past is trying to establish with her as well as trying to protect a child who could become a pawn for either the French Royalists or the Jacobins who are establishing a foothold among Americans who sympathize with the efforts across the Atlantic to overthrow the Monarchy and advance the Rights of Man. To protect herself as well as the child, Vivienne must flee to another Asylum – this time in the wilds of frontier Pennsylvania.
I thought the book does a great job of showing the knife edge of existence in Paris during the Reign of Terror when our job, your family or mere suspicion could be enough to send you to your death. Among the French in Pennsylvania we see the many faces of asylum seekers: those ready and able to shift to a new life and country as opposed to those who can’t or won’t find their footing and only long for home. I liked how the story ties together the various fights for liberty and individual freedoms and how the characters would view them. There are outrages that cause characters to examine their consciences and where they’re willing to draw a line. There are two characters whose actions, though done with firm convictions of justice, clearly show how even the best of intentions can go too far.
The romance is slow and subdued and, IMO, takes a backseat to the political events. The resolution didn’t spring out of nowhere but Liam and Vivienne take their time. I would classify the book as mainly inspirational lite with the occasional invocation of the influence of God or mention of prayer such as I would expect in this age.
As in “The Mark of the King,” I enjoyed the mix of French characters in a little used American setting. I’m not sure about all the waltzing among French nobles or in America but loved to learn about Azilum. Liam and Vivienne are strongly drawn characters who think and grow as the novel progresses but I wish the romance had been focused on a bit more. B
I checked out the beginning of the book on Amazon. The writing isn’t bad, but I am so deathly tired of the usual conservative propaganda that permeates most English-language media about the Revolution. I can already tell there’s a lot of lies and half-truths in this book.
To begin with, it’s set in 1792. That’s not the Reign of Terror. Though some could argue the Reign of Terror started in 1792 with the September Massacres, not only did the Committee of Public Safety and the Revolutionary Tribunal did not exist yet, the general consensus is that the Terror did not start until 1793, either when the Tribunal was created, or when the Law of Suspects was passed in September 1793, a year after this book starts. This was after a year of war on every border with half the countries in Europe, and the Republic of France was understandably, IMO, paranoid. (Let’s not forget that the king and queen encouraged the war so that their own position would be strengthened, and they attempted to flee so they would lead a foreign army back to French soil so they could slaughter their enemies. They would only consider absolute monarchy; they despised constitutional monarchists like Lafayette as much as anyone further to the left. They were not nice people.)
As for the Law of Suspects, that law gave the local authorities to arrest counter-revolutionaries (and suspect counter revolutionaries) for a variety of reasons. But the truth is even throughout most of 1792 and 1793, many people lived their lives in a fairly normal way, and fashionable people congregated at the Palais-Royal. The Great Terror, when tumbrel-loads of aristos where taken to the guillotine, only happened during the summer of 1794. (I’ve checked out lists of people executed through 1793 in Paris, and yes, it doesn’t really go up significantly until June ’94.)
In the book, on page 8, I found the ridiculous claim that “all other combinations” (apart from red white and blue) were “outlawed.” Of course it wasn’t acceptable to wear cockades of different colors, and black and gold were associated with Austria, and green came to be associated with royalists because of the Comte d’Artois, but if you check miniatures and portraiture painted in France from 1792-1794, lots of people are wearing gray, brown, green and even black. I’ve found these absurd claims from recent English-language histories, which are filled with specious, dubiously sourced claims that silk stopped being produced after the king’s execution or green was completely outlawed.
@Joanne Renaud: You are correct that the book starts in August 1792 – that is the prologue. If you read further, you’d see that the next section of the book is 19 months later which is well into the Reign of Terror.
Wow, that sounds like a big error in the author’s research, especially when the main character is a lacemaker.
@Jayne, I think your review is great and informative. I’ve now read further in the novel, and the it is poorly researched in other ways.
I was mistaken in thinking the prologue referred to the summer of 1792 as the start of the Terror. Fortunately (?), I was just able to read all of the Prologue and Chapter One, which is set in March-April 1794 (which, to be honest, is still a bit too early for the Great Terror). She does finally get around to mentioning the war and the Law of Suspects, which I’ll give her points for.
However, there are a lot of howlers. For starters, there’s a baguette. The long, thin loaf now associated with France is a pretty recent innovation, and wasn’t actually named a “baguette” until 1920. There’s also Vivienne’s internal monologue where she refers to “the Reign of Terror” which is a post-Thermidorian phrase popularized in England, but not in France. (In fact, on French wiki ‘Reign of Terror’ as a phrase just doesn’t show up at all. It’s ‘La Terreur.’) Also, men are smoking cigars, which at the time was only a Caribbean thing, and was not popularized in France until later. And why is she able to pass through the barricades without her papers?
All in all, the depiction of the raging sans-culottes screaming for blood is straight of Thomas Carlyle, and lacks any nuance whatsoever. Unfortunately this is pretty typical of a lot of American romance/historical novels, which regurgitate a lot of reactionary historians in regards to the Rev, with the notable exceptions of Virginia Coffman’s The Dark Palazzo and Joanne Williamson’s Jacobin’s Daughter.
@Janine, thanks! The claim that all other color combinations were illegal just jumped out to me. It’s so ridiculous.
@Joanne Renaud: Can you recommend historians with a more nuanced approach? I would like to maybe check them out.
@Joanne Renaud: Well I can answer the question about her escaping. She knew someone manning the barricades who -for their childhood friendship and his feeling that he’d betrayed her once – let her through.
@Janine: I’m not Joanne, but my go-to historian (like a lot of other people’s) is Lynn Hunt. The 5 Books column has a great interview with her where she recommends old and new studies. Her presidential address to the AHA, which is linked in the article, is worth reading too (but then I think everything she writes is worth reading).
The debate over the causes of the French Revolution is one of the great intellectual arguments of the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s so much there, and it goes on for so long, and there’s such a paper and material culture trail, that it is something of a Rohrschach test: you can support a lot of different explanations depending on how you slice the evidence and what worldview and theoretical perspective you bring to the project.
@Janine I do have some recommendations about what to read (and listen to). Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast is amazing, and it provides an engaging, nuanced narrative about just what happened in this complicated Event to End all Events. It’s also 54 episodes long, but I loved listening to it. It starts here, if you want to check it out.
I also recommend Mark Steel’s Vive La Revolution. It’s explicitly a left-wing take on the Revolution, but it gets into detail how the lives of many people were improved by the Revolution, and discusses how many progressive movements were created or encouraged by the Rev. It discusses the abolition of slavery and the role of feminism in detail. It’s a welcome antidote to the Simon Schama’s negative, right-wing take on the Rev. It’s also very funny and readable.
@Sunita Thanks for the article! I enjoyed reading it (though I was wondering what year it came out, as it mentioned “Occupy Wall Street” as something current). However, there are some great recs on that list, though, and I loved her commentary. Twelve that Ruled is a classic. I would recommend that too. And I definitely want to read The New Regime now.
@Sunita: Thanks for the article. Twelve Who Ruled looks like a fascinating book–I might try it. And Lynn Hunt has a big backlist too. If you were to recommend one to start with to someone who doesn’t know much on the topic, which would it be?
@Joanne Renaud: That podcast was recommended to me by another person, too. I might check it out.
@Joanne Renaud: I don’t know the date; 5 Books doesn’t date their posts but they do update if the respondent has new suggestions. I don’t know of any Big Books that have come out since Occupy that would displace one of these for her, but it’s not my specialty so I can’t be sure.
@Janine: She’s a history professor who doesn’t write popular books, but she has a textbook called Liberty, Equality, Fraternity if you’re willing to read something like that. There’s also a very well regarded single-volume history by Peter McPhee which is especially helpful because it synthesizes the various historical approaches. It’s Oxford Press, though, so it’s expensive, but it’s in a lot of libraries according to WorldCat.
I’ve known a number of people who love Mike Duncan’s podcasts, but I’d exchange 54 hours of him on the French Revolution for the books I could read about it in a minute. That’s just me though.
@Sunita: Thanks! I’ll keep that in mind about Mike Duncan.
@Sunita @Janine Personally, I love podcasts, and when it comes to complex content and ideas, I find it easier to listen to them (especially when presented by a personable presenter) than to read a long book. Duncan does write books, but at this point they’re about the Roman Republic.
Occupy Wall Street was 7 years ago, but the world has changed a great deal since then, and with Trump in the White House and fascism and neo-Nazism on the rise, I feel there’s a greater need than ever for more progressive perspectives in romance and historical fiction. I read about tax breaks for billionaires and insanely wealthy people from generations of wealth directing policy and holding positions of power and punishing poor people and POC for their poverty and race, and the last thing I want to read in a novel about the Rev in 2018 is yet another diatribe about the evils of working class people and the plight of the 1%.
Many of my younger friends have much more left-leaning viewpoints when it comes to the Rev and other historical events. I have my own project in the works, but I hope I see more millennials writing more progressively flavored historical and romance fiction.
@Joanne Renaud: Many people, including quite a few of my friends and colleagues, love podcasts too. That’s why I said “that’s just me” about listening v. reading. In my line of work I have people talking at or with me (and vice versa) so much that when I have my own time I prefer silence or music.
I think we may be talking past each other a bit? I wasn’t talking about romance and historical fiction when I said I didn’t think any new stuff had come out; I was talking about scholarship on the French Revolution (and again, there could be huge developments in the last seven years I missed, I just haven’t heard about them). There are more than enough flavors of left-friendly approaches to keep historical fiction and romance writers in material for years just with what has already been published (and the debates, however old, are among the most interesting and spirited around, IMO).
I’m not sure if you’re referring to this book or not but I wanted to clarify that it’s not a glorification of the aristocrats who escaped nor does it vilify the working class. The aristocrats are shown as silly or ridiculous (at best) and pathetic or snobbish with the exception of those willing to change their mindset and work to support themselves. Liam and his family are working class all the way – having to turn to running a tavern in order to support themselves after Liam’s father died.
@Sunita: Thanks for clarifying. I had read what you said earlier about Mike Duncan as having to do with the content of his podcast rather than the medium, but now I understand you meaning was the opposite. I work from home alone and have few occasions to talk to people, so I don’t mind podcasts.