The late eighteenth-century is one of my favorite eras in history. England and France and America were all in turmoil—fighting with each other, and internally. While Britain tried to maintain its colonies in America, France’s people were resisting their government and the aristocrats that ruled them. The outcome in America was the defeat of British tyranny and the creation of a new nation. In France, a revolution upended a feudal system and the monarchy, creating a new government. Men mostly get all the credit for the outcome of these events in the history books. Ribbons of Scarlet, a new collaborative novel written by six bestselling and award-winning authors corrects that omission. Each of the authors has taken a woman from history and brought her life to the forefront. Cleverly, each of their stories is interwoven into the narrative forming a complete novel. The possibility that multiple authors could work together, with strong women from history as their muses, was the compelling factor in my wanting to read this new book. Could they indeed pull it off?
The novel is divided into six sections, each titled to reflect the personality of the character and a hint of their social status. The story begins in Paris in the Spring of 1786 with The Philosopher, by Stephanie Dray. Sophie de Grouchy is a well-educated, upper class, unmarried woman with strong principles and ideals who marries the Marquis de Condorcet, an older statesman with similar political passions. Sophie opens a school for the lesser-privileged and we are introduced to the next character to take the baton, Louise Audi, a fruit seller in The Revolutionary, by Heather Webb. Princess Elizabeth, the sister of King Louis XVI of France, who we were first introduced to in Sophie’s story, is brought forward in The Princess by Sophie Perinot. Through her, we experience the Revolution through the eyes of the Royal family. In The Politician, by Kate Quinn, we see how a strong woman, Manon Roland, with a powerful husband, the Minister of the Interior, can be even more influential than the person in the office. In The Assassin, by E. Knight, Charlotte Corday is driven to stop the one man she feels is responsible for so much death and destruction. And finally, with The Beauty, by Laura Kamoie, we experience through Émilie de Sartine what it would have been like to live in fear of being imprisoned, condemned to death, and then await your appointment with “Madame la Guillotine,” which came to symbolize the French Revolution. The story concludes ten years after the Revolution with an epilogue with our first heroine Sophie. After so much bloodshed and destruction the people are worn down and tired. Craving security, they hope making Napoleon their Emperor will bring them peace and happiness.
The fact that the characters are finely drawn and the storyline is amazing should be all that is necessary to raise this novel into a five-star rating, however, I place it there (and beyond) because it is fiercely brilliant. Collaborative novels have been silently ruminating for decades. Popular with science fiction, action/thriller, and mystery writers, they have not found their footing in the traditionally published historical fiction market. Recently we have seen some headway being made with Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig’s The Forgotten Room (2016), The Glass Ocean (2018), and with their forthcoming All the Ways We Said Goodbye (2020). Ribbons of Scarlet is groundbreaking, bold, and exciting. Its publisher shares my confidence in it by sending the authors on a nation-wide book tour during a time when book tours went extinct after Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga ten years ago. With its success, we should see more novels in this creative format.
In this, A Tale of Two Cities meets the #MeToo movement, be prepared to be empowered by strong women, dazzled by brilliant writing, and hooked on collaborative novels.
5 out of 5 Stars
Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution’s Women, by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, & Heather Webb
William Morrow & Co (October 1, 2019)
Hardcover, paperback, eBook, & audio (560) pages
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Cover image courtesy of William Morrow & Co © 2019; Text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com