It is the height of the French Revolution and the shadow of Madame Guillotine hangs over Paris. An air of dread fills the air, one that I couldn’t escape right from the very first pages of this excellent novel. Our hero is Yann Margoza, a person with special powers that he uses not only to delight the Paris audiences as part of the Circus de Follies theatre group, but also to spirit away people under threat of death for being, knowing, or even working for, someone who was once rich.
Yann certainly lives an exciting life, complicated by his love for one of his escapees, Sido, whose story is also told, and his battle against the powers of darkness embodied by Count Kalliovski, who died some months earlier yet still walks the Paris streets at night. A myriad of characters, some with general human failings and others with just plain evil intent, roam through these pages. Some meet satisfyingly unpleasant ends and others are casualties of the Reign of Terror. Sally Gardner weaves a silver thread through all of the Horrors of the time and mingles a few of her own horrors into the Paris underworld.
It is a book that is difficult to put down. If, like me, you have a tendency to avoid things that go bump in the night, then I warn you that this story abounds with them. But the main characters are ones you quickly care enough about to see them through to their (some times bitter) ends. I imagine many who like vampires and underworld stories will find it enjoyable and wonder why I felt a sense of dread throughout. But I feel it was the way the author captured the time as well as the supernatural elements. It makes you wonder about the rights and wrongs of revolution though. I doubt whether many contemporary readers feel much sympathy for those born hugely rich who dance at their parties in London while the masses starve in the gutters, but it does lead to the question as to who really wins in an uprising.