Three young men come together at a Catholic school in the years prior to the French Revolution. They come from different classes of society, have vastly different personalities, and end up travelling different life paths that criss-cross during the turbulent years leading up to the dissolution of the French economy, the famine among the French commoners, destruction of the French monarchy, the rise of political factions that wrench a republic from the blood soaked ruins of French society. If you can keep the political comings and goings of the characters straight, you'll have won half the battle with this book. It's an enthralling read, but I am infinitely grateful for the 'Cast of Characters' printed at the beginning of the book!
Hilary Mantel has taken the lives of Maximilien Robespierre, Georges-Jacques Danton, and Camille Desmoulins and woven a tale that leads the reader through the tangled and corrupt society of the French nobility, the grasping class of public servants, the rough and tumble street life of Paris, and the bourgeois life of rural France that rises to become a political force to be reckoned with during the years leading up to the French Revolution.
As in a Shakespearean play, it becomes evident for those unfamiliar with these three historical figures that they will meet a sad ending ... the guillotine was, indeed, a sad mistress. What's really scary, though, is contemplating the social force that was behind this historic revolution. I was reminded of a tsunami when I thought about the public fervor that careened out of control during this era. Scary times. Desperate times.
If you are interested in historical fiction, this is a good read ... I think it's challenging, but highly satisfying. I did, though, have to do extensive Internet research/reading to keep on top of the political developments during the late 1700's in France.