By Michelle Moran
Crown Publishing December 2011
Won from Lorren of The Story Girl
Marie Grosholtz works in the family business, creating wax figures and scenes that depict the most famous and infamous people in France. They are focused on keeping the family afloat and staying ahead of the news so that they can portray it within their museum, The Salon de Circe. When it is requested that Marie teach the art of wax sculpture to King Louis' sister, she sees it as an opportunity to find out what is going on with the royal family. As the people start to rise up against the monarchy, Marie has the unique position of straddling two worlds - the pomp and beauty of the royal palaces and the whispering and anger that take place among the revolutionaries plotting in her own home.
Michelle Moran does an excellent job of showing her readers an incredible amount of history without getting bogged down in facts. Because Marie is one of the few people who is incredibly present in the world of both the royal family and the revolutionaries, we get to know people on both sides. Everyone in this novel feels authentic and like a fully realized character, from Marie's brothers to the royal family to the revolutionaries Marie encounters as the unrest grows.
This novel makes you really feel the peril of this time period. No one is safe. Through Marie's eyes, we can see how the folly of the king leads to the downfall of his family and how the court prevented the royal family from realizing what was really going on in their country. The revolutionaries themselves quickly spiral out of control and innocent people are being killed in the chaos that follows. There is constant fear of being named as a loyalist to the crown and hauled off to prison or to the guillotine. Marie finds herself on perilous footing as she tries to placate whoever is in power at that moment. Even if you know what happens to Marie, the feeling of danger is heightened throughout the novel for every character.
Marie is a really interesting character. Her love for her family and her dedication to them is apparent on every page. She knows that they are in a precarious situation and will do anything to keep them safe. She also is proud of her successes in her field and looking for success and recognition. This puts her at odds with her desire for love with her neighbor Henri, a prominent scientist. While it is certainly a unique time period, the pull between success in work and happiness in personal life with a family is something that feels familiar to so many of us today.
Reading Madame Tussaud reminded me of why I love historical fiction. I loved learning about new people and times in history. Michelle Moran is a gifted writer and I stayed up much too late to finish this excellent novel. This is a book you don't want to miss. I look forward to reading the rest of Ms. Moran's novels very soon.