So, hello there, friends! This blog has fallen a little silent . . . but I am back, if only for a short while (yeah, life is busy!). Here I have with me a book I just finished reading eagerly, abet sleepily, late into the night last week. A while ago, Anne Elisabeth Stengl emailed me about reading and reviewing an e-copy of her mother's latest novel, and I immediately jumped at the opportunity - I love Anne Elisabeth's novels so I placed my bets her mother must be pretty good too, I am a lover of historical fiction in general, and a novel set during the French Revolution sounded deliciously fascinating. (YES PLEASE!) Howweeverrr... I confess that I was hard-pressed to find time to read the PDF review copy once I received it, due mostly to the awkwardness of reading a rich historical French Revolution saga of a sprawling 400 page-length on the tiny screen of my phone (in tricksy pdf format); I procrastinated, sweated and left it to the last minute. Then last week, in a pinch of panic, I pulled up my laptop, curled up into a ball by the living-room couch, opened the pdf, and decided to plow through it. . . no matter the cost! By early Wednesday morning, having stayed up past midnight the night before to finish it, my eyes remained breathlessly glued to the screen till that last page!
My thought-musings for this book comes quite overdue, but the saying is that late is better than never. Therefore, now I pluck the tattered shreds of my courage, and give you a review of this memorable novel, Until that Distant Day by award-winning author Jill Stengl.
Colette DeMer and her brother Pascoe are two sides of the same coin, dependent upon one another in the tumultuous world of the new Republic. Together they labor with other leaders of the sans-culottes to ensure freedom for all the downtrodden men and women of France.
But then the popular uprisings turn bloody and the rhetoric proves false. Suddenly, Colette finds herself at odds with Pascoe and struggling to unite her fractured family against the lure of violence. Charged with protecting an innocent young woman and desperately afraid of losing one of her beloved brothers, Colette doesn’t know where to turn or whom to trust as the bloodshed creeps ever closer to home.
Until that distant day when peace returns to France, can she find the strength to defend her loved ones . . . even from one another?
Colette has many brothers, but we just get to know three of them: Pascoe, Étienne, and Claude. Pascoe and she are very close - but as the Revolution begins to unravel and become bloody, and Pascoe more and more a figure and leader of the Revolution, she and Pascoe drift apart. Could his resentment of Doctor Hillard, for whom Colette works as housekeeper, have a good enough reason? For his sake, could she give up a position she is truly happy in? Pascoe was at times very hard to like. If he is confident, charismatic, and full of charm - he is also a dissolute, rebellious and bitter, has a mistress, gets into duels, is bitterly sardonic of faith, and is all round a typical political hero in public, and a rascal in private-life. Colette loves him deeply, but her loyalties to the Doctor, and her desire to do what is right, bring that conflict to the fray. I enjoyed reading the relationship of the two, as siblings, both how close they were, and how conflicted they were. . . but how they loved each other deep down in the end. And so yes, I am glad I did not quite give-up hope for Pascoe, because, even for such a one as he, grace may yet be found. Claude. I think his character could have been explored more . . . what I glimpsed of him was not particularly endearing, but there were little glints of vulnerability to him that helped keep him real and interesting for the fleeting bits that we meet him. Étienne was my favourite of the brothers, though, he was the last I actually took the time to notice, in the same way Colette did. He is deeply religious, reticent and shy and also distant from the political whirlwind surrounding his siblings, but he cares a lot, and works hard at the blacksmith. I was cheering him along all the way :). Leonie Hillard (the doctor's daughter), was a mystery for both Colette and me from the start, but I enjoyed coming to know her, and even grew fond of her in time ;). Leonie's childhood playmate, Adrienne, (and her husband Arnaud), was my favourite. . . she did wrong, and I was grieved to read about that, but her vulnerability and fears were so heart-wrending, she was so young, you cannot help but feel a shred of pity for her! As for Doctor Hillard, he was even more mysterious and elusive than his daughter. Out of all the characters, he was probably the hardest nut to crack. If only he had more space in the story to 'get to know him', I think I would have come to appreciate him better.
While Until That Distant Day is a historical romance, there is surprisingly little romance to this novel (definitely not the lovey-dopey mushy sort!!), and as you all know, that was a winning point for me. This novel's focus was more on relationships besides the romantic kind, - on loving your neighbor, forgiving your brother, etc, - elements that are usually pushed aside in most novels these days for the Big Love Plot! What romance was there was sweet and appropriate, and totally fit the maturity of the characters - I did feel that the romantic arc for Colette in the novel was a little rushed, but other than that I had nothing to complain for the romance of this novel. The other side of the coin, however, is that this story deals with some detail on the moral situation in Paris during the Revolution that prevailed at the time - a truly immoral and godless age. Colette herself had a few unhappy affairs in her past for which she is both ashamed and grieved by (those are mentioned only briefly, in passing conversations), and on more than one occasion Pascoe urges her to take on the occupation of a mistress. I thought that appalling for a brother to do, but I admired Colette's staunch desire to do what is upright, and her encouragement of other young ladies in the mire of immorality. I especially appreciated her kindness to Adrienne, in whom she saw much of her unhappy past. Though there is much reference to the immorality surrounding the Republic, none of them were given in any details. I would however recommend this book for older readers (16 and up), due to the mature themes.
My favourite part of this story was when Colette started to seek God and turned to Him. The faith elements of this story were really well-done, but one of the things I especially appreciated in the novel was the realistic depiction of the manner in which Colette found her faith . . . Stengl does not try to convert her to an Evangelical Christianity, in a forced sort of way. Some authors would insist that their characters be somehow exposed to a certain theology, the perfect spiritual environment involving the character praying The Sinner's Prayer', and so forth. I don't mean to say that an author ought to throw his/her beliefs to the wind for the mere sake of expediency. But I found it very natural and right that Colette ( in the setting, culture and era she is in) finds Christ in attending the liturgies and Mass, hearing about the Good Shepherd from the words of the priest, and crying out to God to protect her loved ones. Well done, Ms. Stengl!
In conclusion to this rather lengthy review, I must say I really enjoyed this book. The climax was gripping, both emotional and sad, but at the same time beautiful and right. The ending probably could have been stronger, and where certain plot elements weren't explored as much as I wished, I am inclined to stick to the 4-star rating. But this is a lovely book! Where I expected a typical, half-churned out historical novel, I instead found a memorable tale of a woman's longings to do what is right, protect her loved ones and follow in Christ's ways. In its very looseness of plot, in the small realities of Colette's life within the very big realities of the French Revolution, I found much to love and appreciate, both story and character-wise, as well as in themes and hope, from Until That Distant Day.
Audience recommended: 15/16 and up
*I received a free e-copy of this book from the publisher for review.