Black Wings: A Novel of the French Revolution

Written by Sophie Masson
Review by Valerie Loh

1798: the Vendee is a peaceful French departement where four young friends enjoy each other’s company. Loyal, intelligent Jacques Verdun, aristocratic painter Edmond de Bellegarde, beautiful, innocent Flora and the strong, devout farmer Pierre Bardon present four very different backgrounds. The air of revolution is about to sweep the country. Their love and friendship, the invisible bonds that bind people’s fates will be severely tested.

The imminent civil war will contrast and set severe poverty and aristocratic lifestyles against each other, yet caught up in the fanatical ideology of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity or death’ are the lives of ordinary people.

Citizens Robespierre, Marot, Danton and others are behind the new thinking of destroying the old ways and enforcing the new. We see extremists, mercilessly blinded by high ideals and rhetoric driving a bloodthirsty mob. Lessons that can be applied today.

Through the September Massacres of 1792 and the beheading of a king in 1793, the tensions, threats and murders multiply. Spies on all sides abound as priests, the poor and the rich try to survive the Terror. Jonathon, an English friend, also plays a very important part within this detailed and realistic account of life in troubled times. Hatred breads fear.

Jacques’ testimony reveals his devotion and the impact events have upon each member of the group. Faith and pride clash in dramatic and gripping ways. When passion for religion collides with an equal passion for political ideology, bloodshed is inevitable, especially when one side has Madame Guillotine.

This novel is completely absorbing. The settings are vivid, the characterisation strong and the pace gripping. The immense amount of research shows as every detail falls into place. The ending is surprising and satisfying; a highly recommended read suitable for teenagers or adults.