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Enjoyable Historical Novel With Good Twists and Turns

  • Aug 25, 2010
With war on the horizon, cinnabar was in high demand by both the French and the Prussians. Baron Ferdinand Haranyi's wife owned large cinnabar mines and was in complete control of them. When she became mysteriously ill and died, those mines became Ferdinand's for him to manage until their son Rudolph turned twenty-three. As an Austrian attaché to France, Ferdinand's control of the mines and his decision of which country to sell to could drastically effect the outcome of the impending war. However, questions surrounded Ferdinand's loyalty and motives and some of the most serious concerns were from his son. Was Ferdinand a subtlety manipulating villain or an honorable man trying to remain neutral in a war that he wanted no part of? In a beautifully constructed novel, encompassing the events before and through the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, Dark in the City of Light immerses the reader into the plight of the Harsanyi family as they try to cope with grief, love, life, and death, searching for the truth in a confusing maze of deceit.

I know virtually nothing about 1870 European geography, France, politics, or the war that took place during that time. After several chapters of racking my brain trying to remember which country is currently Prussia, I looked it up. However, I could have saved myself some time and confusion had I more carefully examined the two beautiful maps provided at the beginning of the book. These are incredibly helpful for those who may have forgotten a few history and geography lessons. The opening chapters and their political issues make much more sense knowing where the countries involved are located.

Historical novels are some of my favorites. It's nice to visit a time and place that's so different but in some ways very similar to the present. Dark in the City of Light excelled in bringing 1870 Europe to the reader. The descriptions painted a wonderful picture of Paris before, during, and after the war. The reader gets an inside glimpse at not only the beauty and history of the time, but also the unrest and seedier side of government and politics.

Robertson created some very memorable characters. They had a charm and humility that immediately brought the reader into their lives. Additionally, the mysterious side of each character was presented with just the right balance of flaws and perfection so that I cared about each of them. While some of the characters are obvious villains, I loved the off-balance presentation so that in many cases I wasn't sure who could be trusted.

The book does struggle in the second half. The story's presentation works well until Ferdinand, his daughter, and his son go three different directions during the war. Once they separate, I had some difficulty following the time line. Each chapter chronicles the life of one family member, but it is not a linear progression. The chapters backtrack to cover the same period of time, leading to a repeat of information and an unnatural progression that makes it difficult to determine where individual character's activities fit into the overall story. It is during this portion that the book begins to feel long. Though it captures the mood of waiting for a war and siege to end, the tedium does not translate well onto the page.

Overall I enjoyed Dark in the City of Light. Robertson does a great job of capturing the time and the mood of Paris. The plot is well constructed and develops with some nicely concealed twists, the detailed research rewarded with a dark and brooding novel. The tale ends beautifully with the highlighting of a passage of scripture that offers hope and encouragement to the reader.

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More Dark in the City of Light: A N... reviews
review by . August 13, 2010
---Description---  Baron Harsanyi is a military attache at the Austrian embassy in 1870s Paris. As war between France and Prussia becomes increasingly likely, the need is high for mercury fulminate, an explosive. The Prussians already have a source. The English have the ability to manufacture it for both sides but need more cinnabar ore. France has no source.    Baron Harsanyi's wife owns a large cinnabar mine in Idria, but she refuses French and English offers to buy …
review by . July 28, 2010
posted in Christian Fiction
     Dark in the City of Light by Paul Robertson is compelling historical fiction about 1870s Paris. Baron Harsanyi works for the Austrian ambassador working in Paris. His late wife owned some cinnabar mines that produce the highly prized materials that the English, Prussian, and French are all bidding for. Their political machinations fill the novel with twists and turns. His daughter Therese loves being in the City of Light, especially with her forbidden beau Auguste who may have …
About the reviewer
Melissa Willis ()
A little bit about me. I read primarily Christian fiction. My favorites are suspense, with supernatural elements always being a plus. I most enjoy books that will keep me thinking well after I'm done … more
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Baron Ferdinand Harsanyi, an Austrian diplomat stationed in Paris, gets control of his wife's valuable mines after her mysterious death. The mines produce mercury, a product sought by both France and Prussia as they hover on the brink of war in 1870. Harsanyi's two adult children have their own concerns: Rudolph reluctantly attends military school as his father wishes despite his own desire to attend the Sorbonne, and Therese takes up with a dashing French captain, Auguste de l'Imperator. The outbreak of war is only one of the complications that affects the family's relationships. European history buffs will appreciate this well-researched story featuring a number of real figures and events of the period. A sense of Paris under siege is nicely cinematic. But readers looking for a human story should go elsewhere; the characters evoke little empathy, and the plot gets a little slow and convoluted in its attempt to disguise the villains. The author is better at history than psychology.
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ISBN-10: 0764205692
ISBN-13: 978-0764205699
Author: Paul Robertson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Bethany House
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