I checked this book out on impulse from my library (it was displayed right by the circulation desk) and I’m so glad I did. Where The Light Falls is a historical novel about the French Revolution written by the brother-sister duo of Owen and Allison Pataki. And it’s a masterpiece.
The Patakis capture the atmosphere of Paris during the Reign of Terror a little too well. I read through the last two-thirds of the book in about twelve hours because I was so afraid of what was going to happen to my favorite characters I couldn’t put it down. Jean-Luc did not impress me when he was first introduced, but he certainly earned my respect and admiration before the end. André and Sophie were likable from the very beginning, although there were parts of their story I found unsatisfying, but we’ll get to that in the spoiler section.
I’m not all that familiar with French history, so I wasn’t sure how accurate the book was, but my overall impression was that the Patakis did more than their share of research to write this. They do have a note in the back where they point out which characters were fictitious and which real, as well as where they took artistic license with events to make them match the timeline of the novel better. I enjoy learning about history, and think one of the most enjoyable ways to do so is to read well-written historical fiction. This book certainly qualifies as that.
Perhaps my favorite feature of this book is the suggested reading list in the back. In writing this blog, I’ve discovered how hard it is to find good books without solid recommendations from reliable sources. As much as I liked Where The Light Falls, I’m willing to consider the authors reliable sources on further reading material.
The French Revolution and the resulting Reign of Terror were not good times in France’s history. The Bourbon monarchy drove their people past the breaking point, and the results were ugly. Where The Light Falls has villains you love to hate, heroes you hate to lose, and raises lots of uncomfortable questions about human nature. 4.5 out of 5.
SPOILER SECTION: I want to talk about a few things I didn’t like so much about this book, mostly character deaths, so be warned: SPOILER AHEAD!
Any book that features a guillotine as prominently as this one does is going to have more than it’s fair share of character deaths. And I’m certainly not one to think that every single character needs to have a happily-ever-after. As much as I hated to see Kellerman beheaded, for example, his death served an important function in the overall plot and structure. But I feel like André’s family really got cheated.
The death of André’s father opens the novel. It sets the tone and the fact that you don’t realize until later that his son is the main character doesn’t really take away from the impact at all. But finding out that his mother died of pox in England without ever becoming a character didn’t carry the emotional punch it was supposed to. Perhaps because we get this information through Sophie and never see André’s reaction to it. But Remy’s death infuriated me.
Remy is the affable younger brother who doesn’t take anything in life seriously. His genuine admiration for his older brother is perhaps his best trait. The fact that he is willing to put his own life at risk to save Sophie shows that he isn’t as shallow and selfish as he sometimes comes across. But then he dies off-page, and we don’t get any confirmation over whether he’s really alive or dead until almost the end of the book. Leaving that little kernel of hope until the end should have made the fact of his death devastating, but so much else had happened, and was happening at the moment of revelation, that I’d sort of moved past him. André himself didn’t seem to be all that upset by it, probably because he was almost dead and in shock when he got the news and we never revisited the subject. I certainly don’t want to wallow in tragedy, but I think Remy deserved better. At least a moment of silence or something.
Another character’s death that I saw coming and yet didn’t at the same time was Marie. I don’t remember know exactly what tipped me off, but for most of the novel I was expecting her to die, probably at Lavare’s hands, whether directly or indirectly. Instead she dies in childbirth while Jean-Luc is off saving Sophie. I think the point was supposed to be that she knew something was wrong but she pretended to be fine so her husband would leave to save their friend. But it felt completely unnecessary to me. Murat and Lazare and both dead, Sophie is safe, victory is won, and Jean-Luc comes home to a dead wife. Why? To show how the women of France were making sacrifices even though they were largely excluded from the nation’s democratic laws? I could maybe see that, but it could have come through much clearer. The reveal of Marie and Citizen Persephone might have helped make this point, but it felt like an afterthought. I’d already figured it out and they didn’t see any more about it than to point it out, so I’m not sure what the point of that was either.
The final thing I thought was missing in the book was André and Sophie’s reunion. The action ends with André recovering from his fight with Murat in Egypt and Sophie in Jean-Luc’s apartment immediately after killing Lazare. The next time we see them, they’re together in Paris years later. After everything those two went through to be together, I want to see them celebrate their victory over their enemies. Instead I’ll just have to be happy that they did in fact get their happy ending.
Despite these criticisms, I did really enjoy the book and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys history with a good dash of romance.