Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice

Written by Kathleen Benner Duble
Review by Arleigh Johnson

Shortly before the Reign of Terror breaks out during the French Revolution, Celie Rousseau loses her family to hunger. She is saved on the road to Paris by another orphan, Algernon, who had likewise suffered the wretched plight of the poor. Together they form a plan to take revenge on the perceived enemies—the monarchs, nobility and courtiers—by stealing from them. Eventually they are caught out by none other than the king’s brother and the wax artist, Madame Manon Tussaud.

Finding Celie’s extraordinary talent for drawing from memory, Manon agrees to take the girl under her wing to help with the wax museum, while employing Algernon to various household tasks. The Duc d’Artois, fond of games and gambling, makes a bet with Manon that she’d not be able to reform the thieves, and so the stage is set for a new beginning for Celie and Algernon. France, however, is on the cusp of revolt.

Celie accompanies Manon to Versailles, for drawing lessons with the king’s gentle sister, Madame Elisabeth. There Celie is witness to many things, most notably that many of the rumors about the court are exaggerated and even the king and queen are trapped in gilded cages. Meanwhile Algernon, on the streets of Paris, joins the revolutionaries and pushes Celie to choose between her old alliances and new.

This is a fast-paced and sometimes fanciful story for those well-versed in French Revolution history, though the author explains the rearranged timeframe in the Author’s Note. As a young adult-themed novel, it includes a bit of romance, much adventure and a satisfying protagonist who changes her views through experience.