Nemesis and the Swan
Lindsay K. Bandy has written a brilliant young adult novel set during the French Revolution. In 1792, nineteen-year-old aristocrat Hélène d’Aubign is thrown into a prison cell, not knowing who accused her. The prison scenes alternate with chapters set at the beginning of the revolution, in 1789, where Hélène recounts the events that led her to prison. Eventually, the two timelines come together. Hélène’s progressive-minded governess teaches her about science and rationalism, and the importance of independent thinking. Hélène rejects the man her father has chosen for her and falls in love with a jeweler’s apprentice. They plan to run away together, but the revolution separates them. After Hélène’s home is destroyed, she escapes from her family and returns to Paris. But the city is greatly changed, and her lover is married to another. Living under an assumed name, Hélène finds work at a bookshop and is drawn to a painter named Jacques and his circle of revolutionaries. A set of brooches Hélène has brought from her family home contains a clue to a secret that has torn her family apart. How long can she hide her identity? And will Hélène’s search for the truth behind her family lead her to the guillotine?
Nemesis and the Swan is beautifully written, and Hélène is a strong, intelligent heroine readers will care about. The parallel timelines keep up the suspense, making readers wonder why Hélène was sent to prison, and whether she will come out alive. The novel draws readers into the world of the French Revolution, with many details of life in those turbulent times, for both nobles and commoners. The mystery behind Hélène’s family held my attention as well, and it takes several unexpected turns. Highly recommended for readers 12 and up.