On the eve of the French Revolution in Paris, Marie Grosholtz runs the Salon de Cire with her uncle Curtius, sculpting wax figures of prominent public figures and placing them in realistic settings for public viewings. Their wax figures are so famous that even the royal family come to pay a visit and many nobles request sculptures of themselves. But revolutionary talk is set to change everything and Marie, as new tutor to the king’s sister at Versailles, is in a position to hear everything and witness the fall of the monarchy from the inside. When the revolution begins to threaten her life, Marie must decide between staying in Paris with her family or fleeing to England with her lover, Henri.
I have been really looking forward to this book for months. I’ve loved all of Michelle Moran’s books set in Egypt and Rome and was thrilled that she’d chosen a time period more to my overall tastes this time. I’ve always been curious about Madame Tussaud and this just seemed like the perfect way to learn a little bit more about her. It would have been easy to be disappointed given the high level of my expectations, but I loved this book just as much as Moran’s previous books. It was immensely satisfying in every way. In fact, the only thing I didn’t like was the cover quote, ‘Can Love Survive the Revolution?’, which just didn’t convey what the book was about at all to me.
I loved the atmosphere in this book in particular. There is a constant sense of danger and suspense around Marie, even at the beginning, particularly due to the talk that occurs in her family’s salon. She can feel what’s going to happen, and as a reader, I know enough of the history of the French Revolution to sense that things aren’t going to go well. As she gets close to members of the royal family, Marie’s outlook on events starts to shift, and she starts to understand the depth of difference between the actual lives of royalty and the people’s perception of them. I particularly enjoyed the scenes set in Versailles – both because I’ve been there and because I recently learned how disgusting the palace used to be from watching a recent TV show, Filthy Cities on the BBC. These added a very welcome extra dimension to my reading and Marie’s Paris.
I also, predictably, loved Marie’s character. As you’ll undoubtedly have noticed, I am a very character-driven reader, and I was thrilled to have one I could really appreciate in Marie. She’s practical, with a keen eye for money and a determination to do her best, but she also has a romantic, sympathetic heart that does emerge on occasion. Her mission in life isn’t to get married and have babies, although she wouldn’t mind doing that as well as her job; she’s about as career oriented as an eighteenth century woman could get. And, we know from the beginning, she succeeded hugely and her name now graces wax museums the world over. I think she would have been pleased.
If you’re a historical fiction fan, I think you’ll love Madame Tussaud. It has the perfect mix of historical detail, atmosphere, story, and great characters. Highly recommended.
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