In A Place of Greater Safety, two time Booker Prize-winning author Hilary Mantel weaves a compelling and well-paced novel around three historical characters from the French Revolution. Mantel’s excellent style combines incredible attention to detail with unusual ability to craft complex characters. This book, which is one of her earlier works, is not quite as tightly crafted as Wolf Hall, but you can see the ability getting there.
The novel is structured around three major revolutionary figures–Danton, Robespierre, and Desmoulins–so if you know a bit about the French Revolution you will have a good feel for what is coming. However, it’s much to Mantel’s credit that even though I knew good and well what to expect I still felt the tension and pacing of the story. At the beginning I found it difficult to keep track of the large cast of characters (this is something Mantel got better at in her later novels) even with a detailed character chart in the front of the book. As the story went on it grew easier to sort everyone out, but be prepared to find the first section a bit confusing. It’s worth it to stick it out though, as I think the book overall deepened my understanding of the time period and events surrounding the French Revolution.
This is particularly helpful to me as we’re studying the American Revolution just now in our homeschool, and will wind up our year with the French Revolution and end of the 1700s in a few months. I find it so interesting to think about differences between major revolutions and what happens when the previously powerless have to rule.
If you’re interested in history or just love a really detailed novel with deep character development, I’d recommend A Place of Greater Safety.
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