Where the Light Falls by Allison Pataki and Owen Pataki
Dial Press, 2017. Hardcover, 384 pages.
Where the Light Falls is the brainchild of collaboration between bestselling historical fiction writer Allison Pataki and her brother, Owen, a former Army officer. It draws on Allison’s rich storytelling skills while using Owen’s idea and military knowledge. Set amidst the French Revolution, this story documents many angles of those terror-filled years.
The novel opens while the deposed monarchs still live. Each of the lead characters is introduced in turn: Jean-Luc St. Clair, an idealistic young lawyer; Andre Valiere, an Army officer of noble blood; and Sophie Vincennes, a young widow and niece of a French general. Jean-Luc is new to Paris along with his wife and son and he soon learns to navigate the fervor of Paris. Meanwhile, Andre is off to battle at Valmy to help defend France against the Hapsburgs and their allies who hope to restore the monarchy. Sophie represents the plight of the women in the era, as does Jean-Luc’s wife, Marie.
By the middle of the novel, all three’s paths have intersected. Jean-Luc finds himself defending former nobles in the courtroom against a much more seasoned lawyer. Andre fights to preserve his life as the second reign of terror strikes. Sophie must establish herself separately from her uncle as her world crumbles down around her, thus representing the modern woman. And each of the three finds ways to help the others, often in unexpected ways. Towards the end, Napoleon’s rise begins bringing even more changes.
The above may sound overly simplistic compared to the complexities in this novel. However, I cannot say much more without spoiling the story. Let me just say this was a complicated era in history. And it is an era with many famous names, many of which make cameo appearances, including Napoleon, Robespierre, Louis XVI, General Christophe Kellerman, and more. I can also say that each of the characters, once loyal to the revolutionary cause, must question the sacrifices they have made and because of that each also faces a personal struggle within the overall conflict to help preserve a nation that is fighting itself.
Penned in the same vivid, historically accurate prose as her previous works, Where the Light Falls is a deeply engaging novel. The Pataki siblings have crafted a story that draws the reader in and makes them share the feelings of the lead characters as they experience life during the French Revolution. Readers will feel the terror, the despair, and the ever lingering hope. In this, Allison Pataki has only improved with each of her novels (I have read her previous three, The Traitor’s Wife, The Accidental Empress, and Sisi; I will admit I have written but failed to post reviews of these novels, so expect more details later.). There are also many twists and turns throughout, many of which are unexpectedly welcome and others that show just how ruthless life was during those years. In all, another engaging read.
For the purists out there, there were some liberties taken with historical events, including where one character was killed off in the novel but in reality went on to even greater roles. However, this change helped to drive one of the many storylines in the novel. Just remember, this is fiction and the authors admit to this change in the afterward and why it was done.
Do you think you will read this novel? Have you read a different novel set amidst the chaos that was the French Revolution? If you have read a different work by Allison Pataki, what did you think?
This review is based on an advanced reader copy won in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway (which I was ecstatic to win). The novel will be released tomorrow, 7/11/17.