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Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat

Spirit of Lost Angels

by Liza Perrat

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3.5 Stars

Set in 18th century France prior to the start of the French Revolution, Spirit of Lost Angels follows the life of Victoire Charpentier, a young peasant woman raised in the French countryside. Although poor, young Victoire is blessed with a family that loves her and the kindness of friends in her village. But when her father is killed and her mother executed for witchcraft, Victoire is forced to move to Paris and work in service to a noble family. Treated by her new master in a most brutal fashion, Victoire manages to escape back to her village and find contentment by having a family of her own. Victoire's happiness, however, is short-lived, and in her grief she is accused of an unthinkable crime and sent to Paris' notorious La Salpêtrière asylum. While in La Salpêtrière Victoire becomes friends with the infamous Jeanne de Valois, the key player in the scandalous affair of the diamond necklace, and together the women manage to plot their escape from the asylum. While Jeanne flees to England, Victoire assumes a new identity and remains in Paris, where she is able to create a new life for herself. This new life brings Victoire into contact with a group of woman of a revolutionary bent, and she finds herself caught up in the revolutionary fervor. In a city and country under the threat of revolution, Victoire must decide whether she wants to fully embrace it or chose an altogether different path.

Through her lovely descriptive prose, Liza Perrat brings both Victoire Charpentier and the world she lived in to life. By following Victoire as a youth in a small village, to her move to Paris to work as a servant in a noble house, to her days as an inmate at La Salpêtrière, and finally to her post-asylum life within revolutionary circles, the reader is given a first hand account not only of Victoire's experiences but also of the changing political landscape of France itself. While Victoire's life in Paris is interesting, especially as it showcases the role of women in the onset of the French Revolution, it is the narrative set in the small village of Lucie-sur-Vionne and in La Salpêtrière that best showcase Perrat's talent as a writer. Indeed, the section of the novel concerning Victoire's stay in La Salpêtrière vividly illustrates what a horrible experience it must have been for those who found themselves housed or imprisoned within its walls. As the novel's protagonist, Victoire is an overall well-drawn and sympathetic character and, as a result, readers will have little difficulty liking her. Although Victoire is portrayed as intelligent and resourceful woman, her extensive knowledge of French and Parisian politics in the latter half of the book seems unrealistic for someone with her background. As a result, the last section of the novel would benefit from additional detail regarding Victoire's self-education, which, although acknowledged, mostly takes place off page.

Overall, The Spirit of Lost Angels is an enjoyable novel that is sure to appeal to fans of the French Revolution era, as well as to those who enjoy novels featuring strong heroines.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this novel by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review ( )
  Melissa_J | Jan 15, 2016 |
I liked that this was about the ‘commoners’ cause’ and gave us the French Revolution from a commoner’s perspective. It has more on the growth of revolutionary sentiment than on the famous events themselves – although the Women’s March on Versailles acts as the centrepiece of those events, here, where the focus is also on women’s input and experience of the revolution. At first I thought a fault that ordinary people in the novel sit around and discuss the social and political circumstances, so often, but I’ve changed my mind, because obviously they did this or we wouldn’t have had a revolution. Similarly, at first I thought there was too much historical detail, but that turned out to be what I liked most about the book: the social novel, a canvas on ‘why there was a revolution’, with scarifying detail at times.

Victoire runs the gamut, or did I mean the gauntlet, of village life and the streets and prisons of Paris. To me her story was like a vehicle to give us a full look at the times, and I committed more to support cast than to her – but that may be because my interest was in the social aspects of this novel. There were contrivances of plot, but so there are in French and English social novels of the period and the 19th century: I thought the slightly Monte-Cristo style suits, and didn’t have an issue until the end, which was wrapped up too neatly.

The second half was more lively for me than the first. ( )
  Jakujin | Jun 20, 2013 |
This fun historical novel has the wild plot of a Sidney Sheldon with the kind of dramatic machinations of The Count of Monte Cristo (both very good things).

Set between 1768 and 1794, the novel follows Victoire Charpentier, a sweet girl from a rural French village. Her seemingly enchanted life -- loving parents, adored family, a childhood love -- is shattered when her beloved herbalist mother is drowned as a witch.

Sent to Paris as a maid for a noble family, she learns first hand the violent cruelties the wealthy heap upon those less fortunate, and she finds herself pregnant. After giving up her baby, Victoire returns to her home and finds herself married -- not to her childhood love, but to the father of her crush.  To her surprise, it proves to be a satisfying relationship, and she and her older husband open a successful inn.

Happiness, however, isn't prone to lingering around Victoire, and tragedy strikes once more with devastating effect. There's prison, a notorious noblewoman, some shocking episodes, wild vengeance, mistaken identities, and a bittersweet ending. (I'm doing broad strokes here to save some surprises!)

With such an extravagant plot, there's potential for a book like this to just turn into a plot heavy 'and then she' style novel, but happily, Perrat balances the action with solid narrative, a nearly too-sweet-to-be-believed heroine, and lavish historical detail that made me think, now and then, I was in revolutionary Paris. (The sensory details of what a Paris street was like made my skin crawl!)

While our heroine Victoire was lovely, I must admit that my heart went to Jeanne de Valois, most infamous for her real life role in the 'affair of the diamond necklace'. It's obvious Perrat feels some warmth for the notorious figure, and her Jeanne is dangerous, amusing, shocking, and sexy. I could go for a whole novel about her! (According to Perrat's website, this is the first in a historical series, so color me excited!)

A delightful debut, this novel was escapist fun -- Francophiles will want this one and those who enjoy historical fiction that doesn't focus on royals will also rejoice. (If you're curious, you can read an excerpt here.) Great fun for the summer -- and I can't wait to see what Perrat does next. ( )
  unabridgedchick | May 27, 2013 |
I've came to this book as a Giveaway and I really really love it. So, thanks again to Liza Perrat and Goodreads for giving me the opportunity to read such a delightful novel.
I must confess that I've read few books about the history of France but having a little knowledge about this particular time I found the history a accurate one.
We "travel" in a France at war, with the doom of the revolution cast upon the nobles and poverty set upon the comum people, a France seen by the eyes of a village girl that as suffered the devastation of losing her family by murder, a girl that had to leave everything behind in her village to become a maid in the big city.
We see the struggle and the faith that Victoire needs to have to simply be. The despair, the sorrow, the war and the everyday happenings surrounding Victoire, her life and the differences between riches and penniless, men and womens, stay with us after we finish the book.

I can't imagine the pain or the despair that surrounded France in the 18th century because of the Revolution but reading this book gave me something to think about. I haven't read anything so good about this theme in quite awhile and I must say that I'm anxious to read more from Liza Perrat. ( )
  Lost_Lenore | Dec 2, 2012 |
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Spirit of Lost Angels from Liza Perrat, an independent author, in exchange for a unpaid honest review.

Spirit of Lost Angels is Liza Perrat’s debut historical fiction novel. Her protagonist, Victoire Charpentier, is born in the small village of Lucie-sur-Vionne, in the 18th Century France. Her family consists of her mother, mid-wife and angel maker, her father, carpenter, older brother, Gregoire, and younger twin siblings. It is some time before Victoire realizes angel maker means her mother aborts unwanted pregnancies, a revelation that shocks and grieves her.

Fate is unkind to the Charpentier family. A fierce lightening and thunder storm fires their homestead and the twins perish in the inferno. Life is never the same after that. Her father must travel to find work and is often away from the small room the parish has provided for the Charpentier family until the homestead can be rebuilt. That project grows more unlikely as years pass with rising prices for food and scarce work.

One saving grace, a fortune Victoire will rely upon later in life, is her mother teaches her ”her letters” in the belief it is the only way Victoire can rise from poverty. Her father teaches her of the world beyond the gates of Lucie-sur-Vionne.

Fate is not finished with the Charpentier family. Her father returning home ill from travels is trampled by a nobleman’s carriage, who does not deign to stop, and dies of his injuries. Thus is born Victoire’s hatred of the nobility.

Her mother is unable to shake the melancholy that dogs her every day after her husband’s violent death. At his funeral, she speaks the unforgivable “Dieu n’existe plus!” and swears never to enter a church again. She begins to teach Victoire herbal medicine and midwifery.

Suspicions mount against Victoire’s mother of witchery. Villagers believe anyone who denies God exists curses the village with black magic.

The river, Vionne, plays a central role in Spirit of Lost Angels. It is the secret place Gregoire and Victoire sneak off to play in the waters against their mother’s strict orders. Here Victoire meets Leon, the son of wealthy farmer Armond Bruyere, and carries a secret love.

Now the river is the tool for the death of Victoire’s mother. She is drowned in the Vionne by the men of Lucie as a witch. In her last moments, she manages to pass an angel pendant she always wears to Victoire. Victoire will not be part with the pendant until she too passes it on.

Now an orphan, the parish priest arranges for Victoire to be employed as a servant in a noble house. Victoire still nurses her hatred of the nobility, but leaves for Paris to earn the few sous desperately needed for survival. The Baron, her employer, believes Victoire is his for the taking when he so desires. Before long she is pregnant.

Fortunately, for Victoire, she has made a true friend in Claudine, the cook, who helps birth Victoire’s daughter, Rubie. Victoire makes the agonizing decision to leave Rubie as a foundling or they will both be thrown on the streets by the Baron to starve. Victoire leaves the angel pendant and a letter in Rubie’s basket.

Victoire maintains communications with the parish priest of Lucie who writes to tell her Armond Bruyere’s wife has died and he has recommended Victoire to Armond as a wife to care for his children. Victoire returns exuberantly to Lucie to marry Armond, the only marr on her happiness being his son, Leon, will always be forbidden to her.

The wedding takes place and Victoire and Armond build up a flourishing business as innkeepers. She begins to lose her tenuous grip on reality when Armond dies within a few years of fever. She, like her mother, suffers maladie du coeur. Her twin children drown in the Vionne while under her supervision in an incident she cannot recall.

The loss of her children is the final blow and Victoire fully descends into blackness and delerium. The men of the village decide to send her to the la Salpetriere asylum of Paris. A bailiff arrives to take her away:

“Child murder is one of the most heinous crimes known to man,” the bailiff proclaimed. “You, widow Bruyere, are to be incarcerated for life in la Salpetriere asylum of Paris.”

As they dragged me off, I had not the slightest idea what the man was talking about.

Spirit of Lost Angels may seem an endless tragedy, yet it is not. Perrat writes of a heroine frequently bereaved and much misused in her short lifetime. Yet, the spirit is never completely extinguished in Victoire. She fights her way back from the darkness of the soul against horrendous odds.

Victoire takes incredible risks and one dangerous, albeit extremely fortunate, opportunity to forge a new life; not the perfect one she dreams of, but one grounded in reality. Her literacy propels her to fame and infamy as she avenges her father and the victims of the French Revolution through words.

It may seem Spirit of Angels is without glimmer of light, but, despite the physical and mental blows and lessons about the vagaries of love, Perrat infuses the novel with Victoire’s determination to overcome adversities and find forgiveness within herself. Once again, the river Vionne plays a part, as does an unlikely redemption and reconciliation.

This is a wonderful debut novel by Liza Perrat. She avoids the trap of allowing her protagonist to miraculously find her way. There are no miracles in Spirit of Angels, but small blessings along the journey. I am impressed with Perrat’s knowledgeable treatment of the role of women during one of France’s most tumultuous times, as well as the complexities of insular village life.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4/5 Stars (Excellent) ( )
  DarleneEWilliams | Sep 15, 2012 |
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