I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive before I started reading Ribbons of Scarlet. First of all because I wondered how well the narrative would flow given that it was written by several different authors, and secondly because my beloved Marge Piercy already gave us a wonderful multiple narrator overview of the French Revolution in City of Light, and I was worried I would spend my time comparing both novels. I had no need to be apprehensive at all, the novel flows well, and I never felt the need to compare it to City of Light. Ribbons of Scarlet is a good read in its own right.
The authors are Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, and the women portrayed are Sophie de Condorcet (nee de Grouchy), Pauline Leon, Louise Audu, Princess Elisabeth, Manon Roland, Charlotte Corday, and Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe.
I grew up in France, and spent years studying the French Revolution, first at school, and then in my own time, reading and learning as much as I could about the time, the people, and the events. Women played huge roles in the Revolution and in French history in general, and these roles are often downplayed, overshadowed by the more well-known men of the time. I don’t know how well the French Revolution is taught in US schools today but it was a massive political, social, and important event that not only changed the course of history in France, but also in the rest of the world. It’s also a tremendously interesting time to study as there really is so much to learn!
In Ribbons of Scarlet each author takes on the story of one (or two) prominent female figures in the revolution. I think this worked out well, as each chapter has a distinct voice, but at the same time the change in voice doesn’t disrupt the flow of the narrative. I have never had an issue reading books that feature more than one narrator – I actually enjoy this type of novel immensely when it comes to historical fiction. I do however feel that a chapter for each woman wasn’t enough to develop their characters fully – and I found myself resorting to Google with some of them to find out more information. I would have been perfectly happy to read another 400 pages on the subject! Some chapters read better than others though – I was more absorbed by Sophie de Grouchy’s part than I was by Charlotte Corday’s, mainly because I felt the writing style of the former pulled me in more than the latter. There are also some areas where the authors use poetic license to be able to merge certain parts of history together (the use of Charlotte Corday’s nickname “l'ange de l'assassinat” for example, I was under the impression that Lamartine gave her that name half a century or so later). Nothing really major to complain about though, as it is historical fiction, and I know I can be a bit nitpicky about these things!
All in all this is a well-written, and well researched book about different women characters during the French Revolution, and it doesn’t back away from the terrible crimes committed in the name of freedom either. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the French Revolution, and to those interested in historical fiction based in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.