Due to hit bookstores December 29Th 2009.
Paris 1765 Claudette Renee Laurient, daughter of a well known French doll maker suffered the tragic loss of her parents during a devastating fire. The fire not only took her parents but her home, her fathers doll shop, and her child hood sweetheart. Having nowhere to go she haphazardly wandered aimlessly looking for a hint of a recognizable face. Sweetheart Jean-Philippe and his family were nowhere to be found but maybe they had fled by boat. At the ship docks there was no sign of him or his family but she did cross another mans path. The man was seeking eligible women who wanted to work in England. Other elegant women waiting patiently to board and Claudette decided to take a chance and set sail across the channel.
Aboard she would befriend her life long best friend Beatrice. She had a timid personality and was more than likely because of the loss of her husband. Beatrice did have little Marguerite her shining star. A vibrant young child who was instantly drawn to Claudette. Besides meeting Beatrice she also met and befriended Lizbit. A loud fashionably dressed woman who I found myself imagining her talking wildly with her hands as she told lavish tales of her travels abroad. Prior to their arrival the men on board demanded that they all sign a document and Claudette being one of the few who could read realized they wanted to take almost half of her earned wages. My favorite part of the arrival was when all the women were all paraded out on the docks while future "employers" looked eagerly at them. Leave it to Lizbit to sound the alarm with "Ladies they mean to spoil your virtue"! Women scattered, yelling while Claudette and her new friends made a break for it. The recruiters hench men ran after them nipping at their heels. Luckily they out maneuvered the men and lost them.
With no where to go the two women and the child went to the church for help while Lizbit returned home to her rich aunt. Forced by hunger and lack of shelter the women went into the service of a nasty social climber Maude Ashby. Forever wishing to raise her families status she was an in home tyrant. Not to mention that the other servants would not mingle with the French girls and there was a deep animosity between them. Claudette had no other choice but to find the means to leave the oppressive tyrants home. The idea occurred to her why not make her own dolls? She was after all her fathers apprentice. Luckily in her escape from Paris she was able to salvage some items from the doll shop. With the help from her loyal friends and a few others seeking to better their lives she was able to make a dramatic exit from Maude Ashby's service and move up in status to become a tradeswoman.
Claudette was a rags to riches kind of girl with one exception, she made her own riches. Her talent and handy work spoke for themselves. She became successful in her own right. She was obviously lacking in the love department. I found Claudette's antics amusing. The longing for her lost love in Paris had faded over time and the handsome lord William Greycliffe "occupied a small portion of her heart she did not want him to have". She had first met him in her service days at the Ashby's home. Later her hopes were destroyed when she discovered he was married, but somethings do not last forever.
Pouring her heart and soul into creating intricately beautiful French dolls. Eventually caught the eye of the glittering queen of France, Marie Antoinette herself. The queen requested Claudette to pay a visit to the French court. Upon her arrival she was stunned and overjoyed to be reunited with her childhood sweetheart Jean-Philippe. Jean had entered the guard service for the queen and she was presented to the queen by him. Marie Antoinette had called upon her to make a special doll, one to be made like no other. Made with the exact likeness of the queens notorious favorite the beautiful Princesse de Lambelle.
At the queens request Claudette's every waking thought was about the "Lambelle doll". Her loyalty to the queen was unwavering in a time when the queens "frivolous" ways were severely scrutinized. Claudette found herself at one point torn between England and France. William or Jean? Both men loved her, but where was home and her heart? Her choice could affect so many that there was bound to be someone left disgruntled. Approaching the dangerous times of the French revolution her loyalties to the queen could put her in a perilous situation. Claudette could easily be swallowed up by the whirling vortex of chaos and terror that had taken full grip on all of France. Or could England become her safe haven?
4/5 One unique aspect of the novel that I immensely enjoyed was the details of the doll making. The carving, wax working, dressing, and designing were all very interesting. I noticed that it was a process just like any other creative process of trial and error. This read did give me a temporary fix for my thirst of a novel on France. Giving an outsiders prospective to the merchant side of England and the French court give a different appeal that was much needed for me at this point in my readings. I highly recommend this novel because I did enjoy Claudette and her two worlds. It was like she was living in two completely different worlds. Eventually she would have to choose but which one?
Update 12-30-2009: I decided to change my rating for this novel because I was on the fence when I finished reading it about whether to give it a four or a five. One of my ways for deciding how to rate a book is off of my immediate feelings about the book. How I decide if a book is my favorite is if it leaves a lingering thought in my mind for some time. This novel really has stuck with me and I really felt like I gave it a four because I was actually disappointed that it ended. Now that some time has passed I feel differently one because I think about this book at least once a week randomly, two being that I really did love this book and it does deserve a 5 muses because I have now added it my favorites.