Published by Tyndale on February 5, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Historical
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A beautifully crafted story breathes life into the cameo character from the classic novel A Tale of Two Cities.
France, 1788: It is the best of times . . .
On a tranquil farm nestled in the French countryside, two orphaned cousins―Renée and Laurette―have been raised under the caring guardianship of young Émile Gagnon, the last of a once-prosperous family. No longer starving girls, Laurette and Renée now spend days tending Gagnon's sheep, and nights in their cozy loft, whispering secrets and dreams in this time of waning innocence and peace.
It is the worst of times . . .
Paris groans with a restlessness that can no longer be contained within its city streets. Hunger and hatred fuel her people. Violence seeps into the ornate halls of Versailles. Even Gagnon’s table in the quiet village of Mouton Blanc bears witness to the rumbles of rebellion, where Marcel Moreau embodies its voice and heart.
It is the story that has never been told.
In one night, the best and worst of fate collide. A chance encounter with a fashionable woman will bring Renée’s sewing skills to light and secure a place in the court of Queen Marie Antoinette. An act of reckless passion will throw Laurette into the arms of the increasingly militant Marcel. And Gagnon, steadfast in his faith in God and country, can only watch as those he loves march straight into the heart of the revolution.
I have a distaste for Christian historical fiction, or at least the stereotypical kind. You know, the idealistic setting, the Christian romance, the often hackneyed and trite paint-by-numbers plot. And yet, a few years ago, I stumbled across Allison Pittman’s On Shifting Sand. While it offered the Christian themes and the obligatory romance, it handled the historical concepts with depth and precision. It was story-first. So when I learned of The Seamstress, and its setting in the Les Mis and A Tale of Two Cities era France, I was in.
On a small farm in the French countryside, orphaned cousins Renee and Laurette eke out a living in the house of Emile Gagnon—the last of a once-prosperous family. Emile is a decade older than the girls. Young enough for his guardianship to be scandalous, but old enough that he truly does seem them in a paternal light.
The first part of the story deals with the beginning of the rumblings of Revolution. Slowly and slowly, the city decays. Farm life becomes more difficult. Discontent rises. This is the only life that Renee and Laurette know.
Their paths diverge when a rich noblewoman’s carriage crashes on the road near Emile’s farm and she is offered a place of lodging for the night. Renee’s skills as a seamstress impress the noblewoman and she insists on taking Renee to see the Queen, Marie Antoinette. Around the same time, Laurette falls in with the militant Marcel. The cousins’ paths diverge and the stage is set to learn of Revolution-Era France through the eyes of these two girls.
Pittman writes with a depth and richness that makes the story come alive. Following actual history, some plot points are set in stone. (And following a fictionalized history from A Tale of Two Cities, so are others…but I shan’t spoil that.) You really get a grasp on the tensions between the rich and the poor—and the pretendings of an increasingly non-existent middle class.
In the end, the story is carried along by history. The pivot points being set in stone make for an ending that’s very focused on the characters and their relationships and all of the intertwining messiness. It’s beautifully written, engaging, and left me sad, happy, and satisfied all at the same time.