I was a little worried when I learned that Michelle Moran (one of my favorite authors because not only is she a fantastic writer; she's also one of the kindest, most gracious people I've ever met via the web) was leaving the Ancient Egyptian world behind and was going to base her next novel in the midst of the French Revolution.
Having gone through a huge Marie Antoinette craze in my late teens and having never quite grown out of it, I can say I've read my fair share of fiction and history books based on the court of Versailles and on the revolution itself. I can assure you, it's complicated, it's harsh, and it's gross. Not an easy task for an author to take on. (Not that it's ever stopped anyone from writing about it. The French Revolution's got to be one of the most written-about historical events EVER.) Not to mention that this book is set right smack-dab in the middle of the action, as it's about the woman who had the unenviable job of creating wax models of the decapitated heads of the celebrities doomed to the guillotine.
Good thing, then, that Moran is an accomplished historian as well as a writer who knows how to ply her craft. She takes a sympathetic approach to Madame Marie Tussaud, considering that we still don't know whether she was a royalist trapped in the middle of Paris, or if she was a revolutionary herself. Moran places her in both worlds; inside the palace of Versailles, and in her museum in the street of the Boulevard du Temple, where Robespierre, Marat, and Curtius, three essential leaders of the revolution, gather to discuss their ideas for a new, monarchy-less France. Marie's frustration and helplessness as she watches and is forced to participate in the events unfolding around her made me sympathetic, and helped me to see her as a woman, not a monster who used the dead for her own means.
I enjoy reading Moran's stories because I know that pretty much everything is based on documentation and the historical record. Moran has a strong basis in history and archaeology, and she uses this to create a vibrant, colorful tale. I feel like I was given an incredible insight into the minds of Marat, Robespierre, and Curtius. They all become real men, not just shady historical figures. They became afraid, idealistic, strong-willed leaders who shout louder than everyone else and thus take control, until they too are caught up in the mess they've created. Another figure that stood out to me was Marie Antoinette's daughter, Madame Royal. Apparently, her petulant, angry attitude is based in documentary evidence. It's understandable, and makes her all the more real to me.
Moran deserves every bit of praise she's gotten for her latest novel. I truly cannot wait to see what else she's got in store.