Rutherfurd, an author known for his multigenerational epics set in some of the world’s most storied locales, tackles the City of Light in his newest novel. Though the grand scale will be familiar to Rutherfurd’s many fans, the structure of Paris is less linear than his earlier works. Instead of telling the story of Paris from its early Roman days to the modern era, Rutherfurd alternates between the late 19th century—a rich, yet infrequently explored era of Parisian history—and eras both earlier and later. In the eight hundred pages of Paris, readers get to know members of the aristocratic de Cygne family, the merchant class Blanchard family, the working-class Gascon family, and the villainous Le Sourd family. Though the characters come from different social classes, they intermix in surprising ways. One of the many threads interwoven through the book is the ongoing, multigenerational feud between the de Cygnes and the Le Sourds, who hail from vastly different backgrounds but who seem to run into each other in dramatic fashion.
The pacing is expert, as is the research. By telling the story of this magnificent city through the families who call it home, Rutherfurd is able to incorporate fascinating facts about everything from the construction of the Eiffel Tower (it’s more of an engineering marvel than you may think) to the organization of the city’s neighborhoods. In addition to the historical drama, there’s plenty of human drama, as the characters cope with the aftermath of decisions and choices made, in some cases, hundreds of years prior to their birth.
The majority of the book is spent focused on late 19th and early 20th-century Paris, with only a brief chapter covering the French Revolution—a slight disappointment in an otherwise fantastic book, mainly because I would have loved to see the history of the Revolution through the eyes of the novel’s characters. Still, Rutherfurd’s latest is as grand and engrossing as Paris itself, and it belongs on the must-read list for any reader who enjoys richly detailed historical epics.