All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

on November 20, 2019

The Blue Rose
Kate Forsyth
Vintage (Penguin Random House AUS)
2019, 368p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Moving between Imperial China and France during the ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution and inspired by the true story of the quest for a blood-red rose.

Viviane de Faitaud has grown up alone at the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, for her father, the Marquis de Ravoisier, lives at the court of Louis XVI in Versailles. After a hailstorm destroys the chateau’s orchards, gardens and fields an ambitious young Welshman, David Stronach, accepts the commission to plan the chateau’s new gardens in the hope of making his name as a landscape designer.

David and Viviane fall in love, but it is an impossible romance. Her father has betrothed her to a rich duke who she is forced to marry and David is hunted from the property. Viviane goes to court and becomes a maid-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette and a member of the extended royal family. Angry and embittered, David sails away from England with Lord Macartney, the British ambassador, who hopes to open up trade with Imperial China.

In Canton, the British embassy at last receives news from home, including their first reports of the French Revolution. David hears the story of ‘The Blue Rose’, a Chinese fable of impossible love, and discovers the blood-red rose growing in the wintry garden. He realises that he is still in love with Viviane and must find her.

Viviane escapes the guillotine and returns to the ruin of Chateau de Belisima to rebuild her life. David carrying a cluster of rosehips finds her there, and together they decide to grow the fabled red rose of China in France.

Historical fiction is actually a new genre for me, relatively speaking in terms of my reading. I’ve mostly started reading a lot more of it since I began blogging but I haven’t read a lot set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. This book centres around a difficult time in France – the monarchy is struggling for popularity and a starving general population are clamouring for more rights, a bigger slice of the pie. Aristocrats like Viviane and her father are on a collision course with a new machine known as the guillotine, named for the man who invented it.

Viviane is the only child of a Marquis who spends much of his time at Court, ingratiating himself with the King. Viviane embarrassed herself the only time he took her to Court and so she’s been banished to the country estate she will inherit from her deceased mother through the female line. The Marquis has little interest in the estate, other than to take the money it earns but he leaves an Aunt of Viviane’s to keep an eye on her and report back any transgressions in behaviour ill-fitting of the daughter of a Marquis. When he marries again, his new wife has a hankering for an English garden, all the rage with the wealthy in France at the time, so the Marquis employs David Stronach, a Welsh gardener to create a masterpiece. Viviane and David fall in love during his time on the estate, despite Viviane knowing that a future can never be theirs. Her father would never permit her to marry someone not of equal status and this is proven when her father eventually returns to the Chateau with news that Viviane will wed a man he is in debt to, an ageing Duc with a cruel temper.

I really enjoyed the character of Viviane and I think if she’d been left to manage her Chateau the way she wished, she probably would’ve had a lot of very happy people who relied on her. She is quite daring and a bit of a tomboy, she’d much prefer to play with her ‘milk brother’ than sit and embroider or whatever young ladies are supposed to do. She enjoys walking through the woods, riding her horse and raising her doves. When David comes, she’s eager to learn about plants and the gardens and also where he’s from and what his life is like. She has been sheltered I suppose, other than her briefly disastrous time at Court and having him around is something of a novelty as she doesn’t seem to associate with many people her own age. David is sweet and quite lovely but he’s also a bit naive and thinks them being together is just as easy as Viviane telling her father no or running away with him. It takes him a long time to realise exactly what her father will do to separate them and make sure that Viviane lives her life according to his bidding.

After they are separated, the book takes a grim turn. Viviane ends up in Court and has a front row seat as the revolution starts and the ending of the monarchy is called for and gathers steam. She witnesses its downfall, the callous way in which the King and Queen are treated and sees countless people being sent to the new blade. The streets just about run red with blood as anyone deemed an aristocrat or sympathiser is beheaded, often all their families and associates are beheaded as well. Viviane however, manages to survive the relentless purging. In a moment of orchestrated chaos she is able to escape and eventually find her way back home, where her aim is to rebuild her beloved Chateau and restore it and its surrounds to their former glory, free from the tyranny of her father. This part of the book felt like Forsyth built the tension very well, the descriptions of the jail and the uncertainty of every day were very well done. No one knew what their fate was until their name was called, so there was a real sense of hopelessness and doom hanging over every one. Some would try to be stoic but generally most lost their composure when faced with the new weapon.

Meanwhile David was in China, supposedly searching for a red rose but I found this part of the book to be a bit of a drag – a lot of it revolves around their party just waiting for an audience with the Emperor and then not much happening as their efforts of friendship and trade don’t go to plan. Then at the end David makes a very convenient friend which grants him access to the very thing he seeks and makes his quest quite easy to complete. It felt quite out of step with the other parts of the book as this is happening as Viviane is watching France descend into chaos around her so to be yanked out of that and go to China where not much is happening at all wasn’t so much of a respite as it was jarring.

Overall I enjoyed this but it’s not my favourite Forsyth book.


Book #193 of 2019

The Blue Rose is book #73 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019


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