Season of Light

Written by Katherine McMahon
Review by Mary Seeley

Thomasina (Asa) Ardleigh is 19 years old and wants to change the world. In Paris in the spring of 1788, she immerses herself in the world of the liberal salons and falls in love with a radical lawyer, Didier Paulin. She has no time for her awkward cousin, Harry Shackleford, for Harry’s wealth is irrevocably tainted by the slave trade. Revolution and war separate her from her French lover, but not from her ideals. In 1793, her sister, despairing of Asa’s unconventional behaviour, engages a mysterious émigrée marquise, Madame de Rusigneux, to improve her manners, for marriage to Harry would solve many problems. Asa is not pleased, but soon finds that Madame brings with her too many memories of her own time in France.

The opening chapters capture a sense of a world on the brink of momentous change, where Asa and Didier’s fevered, erotic affair is conducted in a Paris full of bright hopes for the future. The final third of the book, when Asa returns to her beloved France to find a country riddled with fear, violence and factionalism, is riveting.

I might quibble with a few of the images such as a “cravat-sized strip of lawn,” but the author otherwise presents a vividly realised world, from the cosseted lives of the aristocracy to the hardship of the rural and urban poor.

Asa carries the story. She is a fascinating, contradictory heroine: she may be reckless and sometimes naïve, but she is also fiercely intelligent, ardent and loyal.