Wednesday, June 19, 2019

#BookReview: Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution by Kate Quinn, Sophie Perinot, Laura Kamoie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, & Heather Webb

War Era Historical

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Six bestselling and award-winning authors bring to life a breathtaking epic novel illuminating the hopes, desires, and destinies of princesses and peasants, harlots and wives, fanatics and philosophers—six unforgettable women whose paths cross during one of the most tumultuous and transformative events in history: the French Revolution.

Ribbons of Scarlet is a timely story of the power of women to start a revolution—and change the world.

In late eighteenth-century France, women do not have a place in politics. But as the tide of revolution rises, women from gilded salons to the streets of Paris decide otherwise—upending a world order that has long oppressed them.

Blue-blooded Sophie de Grouchy believes in democracy, education, and equal rights for women, and marries the only man in Paris who agrees. Emboldened to fight the injustices of King Louis XVI, Sophie aims to prove that an educated populace can govern itself--but one of her students, fruit-seller Louise Audu, is hungrier for bread and vengeance than learning. When the Bastille falls and Louise leads a women’s march to Versailles, the monarchy is forced to bend, but not without a fight. The king’s pious sister Princess Elisabeth takes a stand to defend her brother, spirit her family to safety, and restore the old order, even at the risk of her head.

But when fanatics use the newspapers to twist the revolution’s ideals into a new tyranny, even the women who toppled the monarchy are threatened by the guillotine. Putting her faith in the pen, brilliant political wife Manon Roland tries to write a way out of France’s blood-soaked Reign of Terror while pike-bearing Pauline Leon and steely Charlotte Corday embrace violence as the only way to save the nation. With justice corrupted by revenge, all the women must make impossible choices to survive--unless unlikely heroine and courtesan’s daughter Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe can sway the man who controls France’s fate: the fearsome Robespierre.

Ribbons of Scarlet is the fifth collaborative from the History 360 Co-Op but in many ways, it is entirely unlike its predecessors. For one, Ribbons of Scarlet is the first release to be traditionally published (thank you HarperCollins). For another, it is the first to which long-time member Vicky Alvear Shecter did not contribute (a voice I both adore and missed). Most notably, however, it is the first written with an overarching theme.

The Philosopher and Epilogue by Stephanie Dray

Dray hasn’t contributed to a History 360 collaborative since 2015’s A Year of Ravens, but she returns with a bang. Her story, The Philosopher, is based on the life and experiences of Sophie de Grouchy, and I loved how the author used this character to challenge gender roles without sacrificing all semblance of traditional femininity.

The end result is an intensely relatable woman who embodies the ideals of the feminist movement while exhibiting the sort of emotional vulnerability that transcends the page on which she is written. Dray’s use of the ideological ideals that inspired the Revolution is also noteworthy, as are the nods she pays fans of America’s First Daughter.

* Favorite Heroine in Ribbons of Scarlet *

The Revolutionary by Heather Webb

Webb is a first-time contributor to the Co-op, but I can confidently say she pulled out all the stops with her portrait of Louise Reine Audu. I’ve read this author’s entire backlist and firmly believe the heroine of The Revolutionary one of her best. 

The passion that inspired Webb to speak at the 2017 Women’s March is mirrored in her illustration of the Women's March on Versailles, and I couldn’t help falling in love with how the author channeled her own experiences into those of the narrative. Ribbons of Scarlet is an undeniably relevant novel, but this piece more than any other communicated the feel of the moment and spirit that drove women to march both past and present. 

* Favorite Use of Theme in Ribbons of Scarlet *

The Princess by Sophie Perinot

Perinot hasn’t contributed to a History 360 release since 2014’s A Day of Fire. This is the longest hiatus by any member of the group to date, but Perinot hasn’t lost her edge.

Élisabeth of France is the only royalist heroine in Ribbons of Scarlet. Still, her reputation and position at court allowed Perinot to humanize the Revolution while subtly shifting the tone of the entire narrative. The Philosopher and The Revolutionary are characterized by patriotic idealism, but in The Princess, the chaos of the conflict becomes truly evident. 

In addition to turning the tone of the narrative, Perinot uses Élisabeth to challenge readers by forcing them to recognize that strength takes a multitude of forms. It is easy to note the pamphlet writer or the speechmaker, but The Princess gracefully illustrates how quiet dignity and unwavering devotion are in no way indicative of weakness, submission, or subservience.

* Favorite Story in Ribbons of Scarlet *

The Politician by Kate Quinn

Like Dray and Knight, Quinn is a History 360 Co-op founder and returns to the collaborative after a one book hiatus with The Politician. A chronicle of the life of Manon Roland, this story hit me the hardest. 

I wasn’t familiar with the character and relished the opportunity to delve into fresh material, but the trials and tribulations Manon suffers struck me for the undeniable truths they relay. The repression of feminine intellectualism, hypocritical social norms, and the social conditioning that leads women to blame themselves for the violence they suffer harmonize beautifully with Quinn's astute foray into the political landscape of the French Revolution.

* Most Thought-Provoking Story in Ribbons of Scarlet *

The Assassin by E. Knight

Of all the stories in Ribbons of Scarlet, I looked forward to Knight’s The Assassin most. I assumed correctly that it would feature Charlotte Corday and Jean-Paul Marat, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover the author’s second narrator, Pauline Leon. 

Historically speaking, I found The Assassin the most iconic of the novel’s submissions. I loved how the dual narrative allowed Knight to play with the personal costs associated with taking up arms for the sake of one’s convictions. I felt the back and forth gave the story a unique feel and appreciated how it portrayed diversity within the feminist movement. 

* Most Iconic Story in Ribbons of Scarlet *

The Beauty by Laura Kamoie

Like Webb, Kamoie is a first-time contributor to the Co-op. Unlike the other contributors, however, I never read one of her solo releases and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from her creatively. 

Having said that, The Beauty caught me entirely off-guard. The Terror is in full force as Émilie de Sainte-Amaranthe takes the spotlight in what is easily the most romantic chapter of the novel, but it was the author’s use of theme that took my breath away. At its core, feminism is about equality of both genders and while several of the contributing authors incorporate male characters in their stories, it is Kamoie who puts the two on equal ground in a symbolic display of unity in the face of blatant injustice. 

* Greatest Surprise Moment in Ribbons of Scarlet *

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Edelweiss
Read: April 9, 2019

#BookReview: Anastasia: Part 1 by Magdalena Lankosz & Joanna Karpowicz

Historical Graphic Novel

Anastasia #1

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Part 1: 1926. A mother and her young daughter come to Los Angeles. The mother is chasing her dream: she wants to conquer Hollywood, no matter the cost. Her little girl, Anastasia, is the perfect candidate to be cinema’s next big star. But can she stand the pressure? The clash of dreams and the dirty reality of show business is a heavy burden to bear, as Anastasia comes face to face with the crime, abuse, and murky secrets of an all-powerful industry. A story that calls into question the so-called golden era of Hollywood, when the “dream factory” resembled a Byzantine empire, above the law and fed by vanity and greed.

“Welcome to the dream factory…”

Lankosz’ Anastasia delves headfirst into the abuses and exploitation that characterized Tinseltown in its early years. The graphic novel boasts mature sexual content and may not be appropriate for all readers, but I have to admit an appreciation for how Lankosz' presented the material. Anastasia is a dark and challenging story, one that is carefully designed to make the reader question the unsettling nature of the material and how such experiences influence both the personal development and actions of the novel’s cast.

Though set in the 1920s, I found the historical detail thin at best and can not see myself recommending it to genre readers. That said, I would have no trouble endorsing the inherent relevance of the novel's themes or the striking quality of Karpowicz' panels.

Anastasia is not a feel-good story, but I appreciated how the content made me think and will definitely be on the lookout for the next installment of the series.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 15, 2019