Allison and Owen Pataki’s Where the Light Falls is the story of two parallel lives during the tumultuous years of the French Reign of Terror and the wars immediately after. André is the son of a marquis who struggles to escape the taint of being an aristocrat. Jean-Luc is an idealistic young lawyer who moved to Paris to be a part of the new government. Both of these naïve young men quickly learn that the truth is not enough to save them when they become the targets of men who are more than willing to use the mob’s bloodlust to settle old scores.
Where the Light Falls opens in 1792, a few months before the Battle of Valmy. Jean-Luc is working for the Revolutionary government, but only as a clerk cataloging the seized belongings of aristocrats and clergymen (most of whom have gone to the guillotine). He wants to do more, contenting himself with working pro bono for citizens with legal complains no one else will touch until something more meaningful comes along. Meanwhile, André serves in the new French Army as it defends itself from foreign forces that seek to restore Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to the throne. It takes several chapters for Jean-Luc and André’s paths to cross. The two finally meet when André’s commander, General Kellerman*, is denounced towards the end of the Terror.
Once the two join forces to try and save Kellerman, the parallels between Jean-Luc and André become more pronounced. André sees his military career trampled and his life endangered when he falls in love with the wrong girl. Jean-Luc grows increasingly troubled as he learns how cynical men are using the Revolution as a weapon. Both men are believers in truth and merit, hoping that honestly will win the day—only to be bitterly disappointed when they finally learn that the world doesn’t work that way, even in a city allegedly ruled according to the ideals of liberté, égalité, et fraternité**.
At times, Where the Light Falls skips over important history (most of the Terror, in fact). At others, we get detailed battle scenes that go on for pages (Valmy and the Battle of the Pyramids). I found this treatment very frustrating as I am fascinated by the French Revolution. I might have liked this book better if the characters—especially the female ones—had been more fully realized. (I was especially annoyed that Jean-Luc’s wife, who had a very interesting secret, got so little page time.) Apart from Jean-Luc and André, most of the characters are straight from central casting: a damsel in frequent distress, two drunkards, and two deliriously evil villains. I finished Where the Light Falls, but I was disappointed by all the missed opportunities and clumsy writing.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 11 July 2017.
* The Patakis have no problem manipulating history for narrative purposes. What happens to Kellerman in Where the Light Falls is very different from what happened to the historical general.
** The novel also has a very irritating habit of including French for a bit of flavor only to have an immediate translation included in character dialog. Also, I doubt that eighteenth century French people would refer to each other as their “dates” at balls and such.