REVIEW: The Fallen Angels by Bernard Cornwell (aka Susannah Kells)
Dear Mr. Cornwell,
Let me say that even though I give The Fallen Angels a B+, I doubt that many people will want to read this one once I’ve finished with this review. How’s that for a ringing endorsement?
It’s 1792 Paris and the full horror of the French Revolution has finally broken. In one week, over 1000 of the hated aristos have been butchered in the prisons and the streets flow with blood. Three Englishmen and a gypsy groom, Gitan, have arrived at a prison searching for the fiancee of one of them, Toby Lazender. They find what is left of her and as his groom gathers her remains, Gitan learns about the horrible way in which she died. He also learns that it was on the direct orders of a man named Bertrand Marchenior, a member of the dreaded Paris Security and a secret member of a group called the Illuminati, ones who are dedicated to republicanism and the removal of monarchies and organized religion. They are ruthless, they are determined and they recruit Gitan to their ranks to act as a spy when he returns to England with Toby. But Gitan is already a spy, working for Toby who works for the English and their monster of a spy-master, Lord Paunceley. Let me pause to be sure readers have got all that.
Toby sends word to his family in England via Gitan that he is staying in France to help further the rebellion against the Revolution and to avenge his fiancee. His sister, Campion, is less than thrilled to learn this as their father is slowly dying, there is no other brother and if Toby dies without issue, their depraved cousin Julius will inherit the Earldom. Lazen is a great house of England and the estates are among the richest in the land. And unknown to the Lazen family, all of it is now under secret siege by the Fallen Angels, a secret group within the Illuminati whose job is to provide funds for their society. They know the old Earl is dying, that Toby is vulnerable in France and so focus on gaining control of Campion who has been running the estates for her father for years. They hatch an evil plan to render Campion unmarriagable which is thwarted at the last second by Lord Lewis Culloden. Knowing that the estates must be secured in the event that Toby doesn’t return from France, Campion’s father and her French Uncle Achilles (her mother’s brother) urge Campion to marry Lewis, a steady man who appears to love her, even if Campion has fallen under the spell of Gitan, a man she knows little of and who she also knows is totally unsuited by his station in life to aspire to her hand. Still with me here?
Campion has been raised to do her duty by her family and so yields to family pressure to accept Lewis’s proposal. But she can’t keep her thoughts from turning to Gitan and wondering if he might be the man with whom she could find love, even if these thoughts for a servant shame her. The wedding approaches and she tries to abandon all thoughts of love in marriage and steel herself to marry without love and for the good of the Lazen family and estates. But a magical midnight meeting with Gitan begins to reveal to her just what kind of a man he really is and how much he loves her as well. He tells her she is in danger but that he will return to protect her when needed. But Campion’s hand is forced when her father dies suddenly and knowing that she has no choice, the wedding to Lewis takes place.
It is then that the horrific plot against Campion and the estates is revealed to her as she learns that her brother has died in France, the disgusting cousin Julius, who is under the control of the Fallen Angels, has inherited the Earldom and that people she thought her friends are actually in league against her. Campion rises to the occasion, fights back against her oppressors and gains a temporary respite but knows that as long as the Fallen Angels are still alive, she will never be free of their evil designs. Realizing that she must act as the bait to draw them all together, she journeys with Gitan to their meeting place in France at her mother’s family’s old estates and the final showdown with evil begins.
If Raphael Sabatini had written his novels portraying the true evils of the times, he could have written this book. It is more adventure at first and the romance really doesn’t begin to show until the second half. It also accurately depicts the decadence of the upper classes, the nightmare of the French Revolution gone wrong, and the way the aristocracy was raised to believe themselves better than the serving classes. Campion is ashamed that she has any feelings at all for a mere groom and has to slowly learn that not only is Gitan worthy of her, but that she is worthy of him. She reacts to the unexpected danger in her life very believably; not as a TSTL feisty idiot but as woman who has never been threatened and who has to draw on her inner strength and learn from her experiences to overcome her enemies. Gitan is a bit more of a mystery and we really only learn about him as Campion does. He’s not perfect but he is strong enough to be gentle when the occasion demands and he’s revealed as a man taking a huge risk when he, a gypsy and a servant, dares to risk all for the love of a Lady. And, thank you God, he doesn’t suddenly turn out to be a long lost Lord at the end of the book. He and Campion will really have to face the disapproval of society.
Now for the warnings. Let me reemphasize that this is not a book for everyone. It has graphic depiction of violence, especially violence against women. Readers might get ticked off at Campion for her early attitude against Gitan and the romance doesn’t truly begin til about half way through the book. The Fallen Angels is also the sequel to another book called A Crowning Mercy. If you stick with it, this is a rousing, bang up action adventure that I recommend with a B+.