Sunday, July 10, 2016

Cinderella and Bluebeard – review

Author: Paul Jacob Smith

First published: 2016

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Cinderella and Bluebeard is a dark fairy tale based upon the life of Gilles de Rais. As Marshal of France, the Baron de Rais was Joan of Arc’s staunchest supporter both in court and on the battlefield. His devotion to the saint was unwavering even as his peers abandoned Joan in her push north following the liberation of Paris. De Rais’ story did not end with Joan’s death, however, and in one of history’s greatest absurdities, de Rais became drawn to the occult, proceeding upon a campaign of blood and sexual excess which left over 300 dead in its wake.

While Gilles de Rais eventually became the inspiration for the fairy tale of Bluebeard, the baron’s wife’s history invites comparison to that of Cinderella. As the audience’s entry into the novel, Catherine de Thouars is something of an opposite to her flamboyant husband. She is a sympathetic and naïve figure, who, while easily led astray, is capable of making unorthodox decisions and living with the consequences. Catherine grew up an orphan in her own home. Her mother, Celine, had had an extramarital affair before she died leaving Catherine’s parentage in doubt. Now, eighteen years later, Celine returns to her daughter, telling Catherine that she had faked her suicide in order to join her lover in eternal life as a vampire. Catherine accepts her mother’s offer to be bitten, and, with her new powers…

The review: A few words of explanation, if I may. I have taken the blurb, above, from this novel’s Inkshares' Page though I have curtailed it a little as the wording on the page went further than the end of the book. That’s not to say there was anything missing – I think the book went to a natural conclusion for the volume with a sequel necessary to continue the story.

I should also explain that Inkshares is a place where new authors try to garner interest in a book and, if they get enough pre-orders, inkshares will publish it. Paul Jacob Smith sent me a completed draft of the book for review. Now, I don’t balk generally at long books – but this was exceptionally long and, of course, by a new author. However, can I say now that I just ate this up. It was exceptionally well written and very well edited.

The book brings two fairy-tale characters together. Cinderella will be familiar to you but perhaps not so much Bluebeard. However, Bluebeard is a popular tale in France and is often linked to the historic figure of Gilles de Rais. De Rais fought with Joan of Arc but, years later, was arrested and tried for killing and torturing children. His actions are often tied into vampirism also, famously by Huysmans in his novel Là-Bas - though for Huysmans vampirism was something to associate with necrophilia.

Smith constructs an epic historical novel, with Cinderella the first daughter of a member of France’s landed classes and takes us on a journey where she and de Rais meet during a celebration of his coming of age. For the most part Smith eschews the fantastical, except for the vampirism of course, but rather draws a visceral novel filled with dynastic intrigue and bloody melee. The vampires avoid the sunlight – they are weakened – seem fine with most religious artefacts bar holy water and the host; though crosses, even in a churchyard, might impact during the daylight hours. They can shapeshift, cloud minds and must be staked, beheaded and cremated to destroy them. There is clearly a shadowy vampire society hidden from mortal society, though we do not delve too deeply in to that.

This is a book that deserves to be published and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 8.5 out of 10. You can support the book by pre-ordering it at the Inkshares' Page.

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