The Pimpernelles, #1ISBN: 9780823422500
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade / YA
Overall Rating: 3-6/10**
Eugenie de Boncoeur is a young French aristocrat swept up in the trials of the French Revolution. An initial encounter with an angry mob at a convent (where she had been sent to be kept safe) leaves Eugenie curious about the revolution. She ends up fleeing Paris for England, where her mother’s family lives, when a plot to rescue the doomed king fails—a plot in which her beloved brother was partially involved. But along the way Eugenie learns that she is fleeing something else: a marriage agreement to the richest, most unsavory man in Paris, which was made without her knowledge. Le Fantome, as the man is called, will pursue Eugenie to the edge of France and will stop at nothing to make her his bride.
The rating is a bit oddly done because of the plot. Personally, I didn’t like this book nearly as much as I thought I should have. It was bogged down with so much description and set-up of the Revolution that the first half of the book went slowly for me. I almost set it down. The first half basically sets up the Revolution and the general atmosphere of France at the time, which is probably needed to really get into the plot—but for a history major like me, who tends to look up random historical events and research them for fun, the French Revolution was old news, and the sort of “watered down” version here didn’t seem quite as exciting. Not to mention, Eugenie wasn’t really involved in much of it, but that’s a discussion for the character section.
However, I believe that you need the French Revolution background to get as much as you could out of the plot, setting, and character. Without the background, it wouldn’t have the same kind of feeling. So for people who don’t know much about history, the background was probably more interesting and faster-paced than I thought it was. And that’s why I gave this book a split rating, because I think it would be much more enjoyable to people who aren’t me.
The latter half of the book was much more exciting, featuring a well-thought-out getaway plan that goes awry, a couple of deaths, a nice boat chase, and endangering kindly people housing runaways. After I got into the action, it actually was difficult to put the book down. At first I didn’t think I’d read the rest of the series, but now I’m definitely considering it. Perhaps the next books won’t have so much history to them.
That said, it didn’t feel like this book was self-contained. I mean, I love a good series, but I feel like each book within the series needs to be more or less self-contained with its own plot, rather than left completely open-ended. For instance, His Dark Materials: to put it very simply, in the first book Lyra sets off to find the Gobblers and free the stolen children. She does this, but it just so happens that doing so opens up a new can of worms. Enter The Subtle Knife. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: the Triwizard Tournament starts and ends, but it just so happens that Voldemort returns, thus making way for Order of the Phoenix. Each plot is completed within the book, but leaves room for a sequel. The Triwizard Tournament doesn’t continue in Order of the Phoenix, and Lyra doesn’t leave in the middle of battling the Gobblers.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that it seemed, at the start of this book, that there would be some closure with Le Fantome, but I never got it. It was like the book ended in the rising action without ever reaching the climax. I feel like the first half of the book could have been quartered, leaving room for the exciting end to be an exciting middle, and made way for a satisfying ending. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, which is partially why my personal rating is so low.
Eugenie herself was also problematic for me. On the one hand, she is a very realistic young female French aristocrat from the time: kept safe and unaware of the happenings of the Revolution, pampered and cared for, a bit naïve. What’s great about Eugenie is that she does become curious, and becomes strong enough to lie to a bunch of guardsmen, knock a man over the head with a chair, and fire a gun at an attacking boat. She just wasn’t a favorite character of mine because she was so ridiculously unaware in the first part of the book. And by ridiculously, I mean believably, but it was frustrating as I prefer stronger female characters. But like I said, her character was realistic given the time and place.
I quite liked Eugenie’s brother, Armand, who continuously fought for what he believed in. While he tried to keep Eugenie safe and away from danger (which led me to dislike HER), again, his actions seemed believable to me.
As for Julien de Fortin, I thought his character was fine until a relationship with Eugenie burgeoned out of nowhere. I think the plot was meant to be “there’s a thin line between love and hate” but I just didn’t see it. Perhaps the characters themselves were wrong for it in my head—now, if they were more like Mel and Vidanric, that I could see. They pull it off well. Eugenie and Julien, not so much.
The villain, Le Fantome, was your typical evil-guy-wants-girl. He was suitably creepy and obsessive, and made me hope on every page that he never got his hands on Eugenie. Good villain, then.
As for Guy, I was still a bit confused as to what his game/motive was. But then again, I was reading this with a fever, so that could have been part of it.
Setting was one of the things I didn’t have too much of a problem with. I would have liked more description in places—what exactly do the Tuilleries Gardens look like?—but I admired the author’s ability to sneak in French words into dialogue. Also, the sense of time was well-written, and it was clear she had done a lot of research on the French Revolution, mannerisms of the people at the time, and the like.