Book Review for “Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution’s Women” by Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn, and Heather Webb.
This is not a novel but it’s also very much a novel. To be precise, rather it’s a collection of six short stories (or more accurately, six short novellas) all connected to the events surrounding the French Revolution, and the women who played key roles, at the forefront, behind the scenes, and even side-by-side with the many famous figures involved in that tumultuous time in history. All of these women existed, and every one of them could be the focus of full novels about them. Arranged chronologically (with some overlaps), each of the authors allow the characters from the other chapters to pepper their own narratives, while telling their own characters’ stories in first person. That’s why this is not a novel, but it is also very much a novel.
Let me explain. The intertwining of the characters from chapter to chapter is what gives this book a feel of a novel. However, the fact that each character gets their own story told (of which there are seven, not six, because one chapter includes two women), is what makes this a collection of stories, and therefore not a novel. That makes this book extremely unique, which give it many advantages. However, it also poses some drawbacks as well. Let me get my niggles out of the way first, because I think the advantages outweigh the drawbacks here. So, the biggest drawback of such an endeavor is inconsistency. By that, I mean that not all of these little novellas held my attention equally, even though they were all well written. Some of this was probably due to the fact that not all of these women played equal parts in the Revolution, or even in their opposition to the Revolution itself, be it wholly or in part. Because of this, I felt that a couple of the stories felt somewhat padded so that they’d be closer in length to the others, which means that they either included some extraneous information, or things were drawn out too long for my taste. Mind you, because each story is technically separate, this also means that we could move on to the next story with a clean slate and thereby judge each part on its own merits.
With that out of the way, I have to say that what impressed me the most here was how there was an even handedness regarding the political and socioeconomic differences between these characters. That means we didn’t just hear the stories of poor female citizens struggling to stay alive while the aristocracy and the royals lived high on the hog. That means we also got some aristocratic women, including a princess, into the mix with the “Queen of the Market” and other lower born women. Interestingly enough, not all of the higher born women were against the revolution, and not all of the lower born ones were completely happy with how the revolution was panning out. This really gave me a full 360 degree look at the complexities at play here, which was both unexpected, and exciting to watch unfold. (PS: only after writing this line, did I discover that this book is one of the “History 360” series!) I remember studying the French Revolution in High School, but there are things here that I never knew about. I’m thinking that they left out much of the gorier bits to keep us from being too repulsed. Plus, I’m not sure that at that age I could have absorbed all the intricate details of how one faction split from another, and how others came together and then turned on each other. This, however, really put a whole lot more pieces of the puzzle together for me, in a most entertaining way, despite the blood and guts involved (which is something that usually turns me off totally).
Furthermore, I think that each of these stories have a lesson to be learned, not just about these women, but also regarding history in general. While you might not want to feel sympathetic towards the woman who wanted to hold onto their upper-class status, and eschewed this uprising as “ungodly” or barbaric, yet these writers’ stories help us understand their positions and points of view, even if we disagree with some of their stances. The opposite is also true in that just because a woman was out there, marching on the Bastille or towards the palaces to demand justice and bread, didn’t make them saints or angels, and could in fact, be just as problematic as their oppressors. The subtlety in these characters’ depictions, and the authors’ ability to make these women come alive is what makes me recommend this book so warmly. If you can get past some of the slower parts (which won’t be hard to do, I assure you), it will be well worth the read, and that’s why I’ll give it a healthy four out of five stars.
Harper Collins – William Morrow will release “Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution’s Women” by Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn, and Heather Webb on October 1, 2019. This book is/will be available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) US eBooks and audiobooks, the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), Wordery or The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.