There is a wealth of material to draw on when setting a novel in revolutionary France, but few stories are as compelling as those in which protagonists struggle to preserve their ideals and humanity in a world where legal and moral norms have been turned upside down.
Where the Light Falls by Allison Pataki and Owen Pataki is a story of two idealistic young men – a lawyer and a former aristocrat – who see the principles that are supposed to animate the Revolution – liberty, equality and fraternity – become twisted and betrayed by its power-hungry and bloodthirsty leaders. Jean-Luc St. Clair arrives in Paris from a provincial town near Marseille keen to use his law degree to fight for justice and the rights of man. Soon, however, he becomes disillusioned by the spectacle of the daily beheadings of members of the nobility; and his lowly job cataloging the goods confiscated from the executed aristocrats makes him increasingly ill at ease. But it is only when he goes up against a powerful and cruel prosecutor Guillaume Lazare that his safety, and that of his family, becomes threatened.
Meanwhile, André Valière, a captain in the French Army, is the target of a personal vendetta from General Nicolai Murat who has a long-standing grievance against André’s late father. Murat uses Lazare to bring fabricated charges against the young man and send him to the guillotine; however, Jean-Luc successfully defends André who is sent into exile instead, where he eventually joins Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. But Murat will not rest until André is destroyed, and as he pursues him through the scorching Egyptian desert Lazare plots to take revenge on Jean-Luc in Paris, and the two will face the ultimate test of courage and perseverance if they are to save themselves and their loved ones from a tightening noose.
The novel does a good job of recreating the tense, fevered atmosphere of the Paris of the 1790s, where hunger, fear and rage stalk the streets, and nobody – not even a lowly clerk working for the revolutionary government – is safe. The military campaigns by both the revolutionary army fighting to keep the Prussians and the Austrians from aiding the beleaguered monarchy, and the Napoleonic campaign in Malta and Egypt, are rendered vividly, aided perhaps by Owen Pataki’s own military experience with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
Where the Light Falls has all the ingredients to satisfy a historical fiction lover: betrayal, romance and adventure, set against the backdrop of the most iconic city in the world at one of the most tragic moments in its history.