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As a fifteen year old, Sophie Masson once wrote a short story called ‘Les Chouans’, which was her first attempt at trying to get to grips with the savagery, fear, courage and mystery of that time of Revolution, and the riven loyalties and terrible choices made by people on both sides of the civil war. Much later, she wrote an article, ‘Remembering the Vendée’, which has had many readers, but it wasn’t until many years later again that she first conceived the project of writing a novel about the tumultuous early years of the Revolution and the wars it unleashed.
Framed by a prologue and epilogue set decades later, the main body of the novel is narrated by a young man facing execution in 1794, who tells his story and that of his friends, all from very different backgrounds. Masson succeeds movingly in giving the reader a feel for the way in which these things were experienced, not as great events, but as part of people’s lives, affecting them in myriad ways, both great and small. She evokes a portrait of a whole community, and of a country, caught in the grip of massive change, of rebellion and counter-rebellion and the havoc of war, whose echoes remain in the Vendée and in France to this day.
“Masson writes like a native of the time Black Wings is set; when her characters speak, we hear the authentic voice of the 18th Century. Detailed, erudite and elegant, its characters lovingly drawn, this absorbing and deeply felt novel brings home to us the curse of living through interesting times. It will not let us forgive the French Revolution for The Terror so easily.”
Cassandra Golds, author of Clair-de-Lune, The Museum of Mary Child and The Three Loves of Persimmon.
“Masson’s tale about the limits of friendship, set against the backdrop of those best and worst of times, captures perfectly the contradictions of revolution – the appeal of the brave new world, the ruthless destruction of old ways, the romance along with the tumult and the terror. Her tale of ordinary folk helplessly caught up in the maelstrom of history, made extraordinary by chance and circumstance, offers a vision of a past that isn’t dusty, archaic and over, but vivid, engaging, alive.”
Wendy James, author of the award-winning Out of the Silence, The Steele Diaries and The Mistake.
“With skilful attention to detail, author Sophie Masson weaves a compelling tale of a nation caught up in a madness fuelled by a reckless and unrealistic idealism, and the four friends who, wittingly or not, were its victims. Set against this chilling account of the collective madness that led to the murderous rampages and bloodthirsty executions of the French Revolution is the story of Jacques’ love for Flora – a love that will test everything he believes and holds dear. A great read for lovers of historical fiction with a dash of romance.”
Felicity Pulman, author of A Ring Through Time.