In 1788 in Mouton Blanc in France, 16-year-old Renée and her older cousin Laurette are helping at Émile’s sheep farm and sleeping in the hayloft. Both were recently orphaned and had been taken in by Émile, himself an orphan and widower. Meanwhile, Paris is engulfed in turmoil, and the chaos is spreading into the countryside. Disenchantment with the reigning monarch and the nobility is being felt even in tranquil Mouton Blanc, particularly in its tavern and market. Marcel, a young man-about-town but a radical at heart, has an eye for both the cousins and occasionally sleeps in the barn. Renée is a gifted needleworker, and by chance, a lady from Versailles recognizing Renée’s talent brings her to live in grandeur at the palace as the queen’s seamstress. Renée cannot forget the improvised life led by Laurette and Émile. She devises a scheme to get money out to them, while Marcel marches with the revolutionaries.
Allison Pittman acknowledges that she contrived the plot of this novel while reading A Tale of Two Cities, in which Dickens mentioned a seamstress and her cousin. While the similarity with that novel ends there, this novel is also superb. The harsh life in the quiet French countryside on a sheep farm and in a quaint market town is described vividly, and the magnificent and opulent life in Versailles plays out before our eyes. The readers will feel and care for the well-drawn characters’ struggles and joys as they live out their lives and loves. The factors that led to the French Revolution, particularly the hunger of the peasant population and the unsympathetic treatment by the aristocracy, are skillfully blended into the storyline. Furthermore, the undemanding writing style, using both first- and second-person points of view, makes for a pleasurable read. Highly recommended.