Reviewed by Phee Paradise
Dark in the City of Light
By Paul Robertson
It’s the middle of the nineteenth century and Europe is essentially divided into three powers – Austria, France and Prussia. The clash of empires makes war inevitable and the race is on to see who can amass the largest army and develop the most powerful weapons. Dark in the City of Light is a classic historical novel about the events of this period, but the setting and characters personalize it and keep it from becoming a historical treatise.
The story is centered on an Austrian family living in Paris. They are critical to the balance of power in Europe because they own one of the only sources of the explosive used in large guns. Their mines produce cinnabar ore which is distilled into mercury fulminate. The attempts by agents of the super powers to obtain the ore are full of intrigue, lies and maybe even murder.
Although the events of the story are global, Robertson personalizes it by focusing on Baron Harsanyi and his two children. The baron appears to be self-serving, playing one country against another. He is also an autocratic but not very attentive father. His son doesn’t know what he wants, but is angry with his father for making him attend the French military academy. His daughter is only interested in parties and the mysterious Frenchman who stole her heart in Vienna. And the French agent who wants to buy the ore is willing to take advantage of all the family’s problems.
The title is appropriate because there doesn’t seem to be much light in Paris at that time. It’s hard to see the good in any of the characters, although Harsanyi and his son both have their moments and I liked the few people that they both trust. The theme can best be explained by a phrase that is often used throughout the book. “Only God could … stop evil, keep a man from doing evil, stop the war …” Unfortunately, that is not an expression of hope, but of cynicism. When they use the phrase, they mean it will not happen because they don’t expect God to act. But somehow, through the evil events in the story, good does manage to shine through, God is not totally absent, and genuine love motivates some of the characters.
I found the book refreshing, after reading a lot of much lighter, romantic historical fiction, and I enjoyed learning about a period of time I knew nothing about. Keep in mind that the Napoleon in the book is not the one you studied in high school. This one is his grandson and not nearly as powerful or brilliant.
Pros: Detailed historical fiction with conflicted characters who reflect the international conflict they influence.
Cons: The mood is pretty dark and you have to be patient to see the goodness in the story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ABOUT THE BOOK
Baron Ferdinand Harsanyi — After his wife's mysterious death, this Austrian attaché holds control over mines whose coveted ore could turn the tide of war.
Therese Harsanyi — Swept up in new romance and the spectacle of Paris, the Baron's daughter is blind to the dangers stalking her family and the city she loves.
Rudolph Harsanyi — Unsure whom to trust, the Baron's son's grief over his mother's death twists into growing anger and a desire to break free.
As France and Prussia plunge toward war, one family is caught in a web of deceit, political intrigue, and murder that threatens to tear them apart.
To read the first chapter of Dark In The City Of Light, click HERE.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Reviewed by Phee Paradise