Sunday, February 20, 2022

Review: Beyond the Lavender Fields

Title: Beyond the Lavender Fields

Author: Arlem Hawks

Publisher: 1st February 2022 by Shadow Mountain Publishing

Pages: 368 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, culture France, romance

My Rating: 4 cups


1792, France

Rumors of revolution in Paris swirl in Marseille, a bustling port city in southern France. Gilles √Čtienne, a clerk at the local soap factory, thrives on the news. Committed to the cause of equality, liberty, and brotherhood, he and his friends plan to march to Paris to dethrone the monarchy. His plans are halted when he meets Marie-Caroline Daubin, the beautiful daughter of the owner of the factory.

A bourgeoise and royalist, Marie-Caroline has been called home to Marseille to escape the unrest in Paris. She rebuffs Gilles’s efforts to charm her and boldly expresses her view that violently imposed freedom is not really freedom for all. As Marie-Caroline takes risks to follow her beliefs, Gilles catches her in a dangerous secret that could cost her and her family their lives. As Gilles and Marie-Caroline spend more time together, she questions her initial assumptions about Gilles and realizes that perhaps they have more in common than she thought.

As the spirit of revolution descends on Marseille, people are killed and buildings are ransacked and burned to the ground. Gilles must choose between supporting the political change he believes in and protecting those he loves. And Marie-Caroline must battle between standing up for what she feels is right and risking her family’s safety. With their lives and their nation in turmoil, both Gilles and Marie-Caroline wonder if a r√©volutionnaire and a royaliste can really be together or if they must live in a world that forces people to choose sides.

My Thoughts

Beyond the Lavender Fields by Arlem Hawks is fantastic French historical fiction. It is set in Marseille in the year 1792, three years on from the initial Revolution. The violence is ongoing with the two factions becoming more and more polarised in word and deed. I find this period of history to be infinitely fascinating with not nearly enough fictional writing offered, especially when compared to WWII as an example. 

‘France is in tatters. Your glorious revolution has left us no closer to stability than we were before.’

I am happy to report that there are no major information dumps but rather facts fictionally weaved throughout the narrative all testament to Arlem’s research. She does an excellent job of highlighting the political factions, the fallout and the complications in their attempt to reform France. 

“If France falls, it is because her so-called friends have turned into the very despots they claim to despise. If the upholders of liberty only protect liberty for those who think as they do, can they really call themselves champions of freedom? Or are they no better than the tyrants who reigned before?”

Whilst this is a wonderful historical tale it is also equally a historical romance. Arlem takes her two protagonists and places them on opposing political sides (which again lends itself to not only providing balanced viewpoints but also educates readers regarding all aspects of this revolution). I would also venture to suggest this read is YA given the leads' age, dialogue, their feelings and actions - not a problem but something to bear in mind with the romance being very light. As an aside, for this most violent period of history the details are alluded to and not elaborated upon. Arlem does a superb job of portraying the people from all sides with their fears and determination for their ideals and beliefs. This is yet another positive as our two sparring protagonists take the time to learn from each other and soften their views towards reconciliation. 

“Doing what is right is more important than who is right, I think.”

The tale is told from Gilles' point of view, however, readers get to know Caroline's feelings through her letters. This latter aspect I was not a fan of and saw it only as a means to share Caroline’s viewpoint which took away from the smooth storytelling. The book also starts off somewhat slow but by the end it comes together most satisfactorily. I really appreciated how, even as young as they were, Gilles and Caroline worked through mutual respect, starting out as friends, to find new ground to work on together. 

‘A Jacobin and a Royaliste make for a dangerous friendship. And I think we have reached the breaking point.’

Beyond the Lavender Fields was a refreshing take on the French Revolution with its strength being to highlight, through the range of characters and their varying perspectives, the impact of the Revolution on all people - socially, emotionally, financially and politically. If a balance of history and young romance of this period appeals to you then I would definitely recommend this book. 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

1 comment:

  1. It’s certainly uncommon for YA to be set in this period, thanks for sharing your thoughts