The Red Necklace

I enjoyed Sally Gardner’s I, Coriander (winner of Nestle Smarties Gold Award in 2005), a children’s novel set in London during the Puritan Commonwealth, an interesting blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and a little bit of romance. Her next novel, The Red Necklace, came out a couple of years later, and I got myself a copy, and then, typical of me, forgot about it until I dug it out of my TBR inventory during Holy Week.

I took it with me during our company outing to Bohol last month, and because the flight was delayed, I managed to finish it before our plane landed.

This is Paris; here the winds of change are blowing, whispering their discontent into the very hearts of her citizens. A Paris waiting for the first slow turn of the wheel that will bring with it a revolution the like of which Europe has never known… This is the winter of 1789, one of the worst in living memory. Jack Frost has dug his fingers deep into the heat of this frozen city, so that it looks almost unrecognisable under its thick blanket of snow…

Thus begins The Red Necklace, another historical novel from Sally Gardner, this time blended with gypsy magic, mystery, murder (gasp!), and passion.

Set in Paris (and alternately, in London) in the advent of the French Revolution. Yann Margoza is a fourteen-year old boy under the care of the dwarf Tetu. Yann and Tetu are under the employ of the magician Topolain, and they travel all over France in their performances.

Topolain is invited wealthy Count Kalliovski to perform at the banquet at the chateau of Marquis de Villeduval. Topolain relishes the thought of the money they will earn from the job, but Yann shares his trepidation after he gets a frightening premonition. Still, Topolain prevails, and they proceed to the chateau in Paris.

The team falls right into the sinister plot of Count Kalliovski, but Yann manages to escape, with the help of young Sido de Villeduval, the shy daughter of the Marquis. Yann manages to take away a precious item belonging to Count Kalliovski, and is soon in pursuit of Yann.

Yann starts a new life for himself, but the past is never far from his thoughts. Seventeen-year old Yann must confront his demons, to save all that is precious to him.

I found this book enchanting, even more so than I, Coriander. The research that went into this novel shows; I was immersed in the rich backdrop of the French Revolution, the French-ness of the felt authentic, unlike some “French” novels that merely sprinkle italicized French words throughout the text. The imagery was also quite vivid, some parts deliciously dark, and some parts romantic, and I loved how Gardner describes everything down to the last detail: the cacophony in the streets of Paris, the minutiae of the Marquis de Villeduval’s trifles for his parties, and I like this passage in particular, one that describes the huge library at the chateau, because I like reading passages pertaining to libraries or book shelves or stacks of books!

The walls were lined from floor to ceiling with bookshelves, divided halfway down by a wooden walkway. At each end was a spiral staircase. It was hard to fathom where the ceiling began or ended; the books looked as though they might go on to eternity.

Wouldnt we all love a library like that?

I thought Yann Margoza was very well written. He’s a boy of unknown origin and strange abilities, and the eerie turn of events thrusts him into the role of hero, and the burden of fulfilling a grand mission. Count Kalliovski is delightfully sinister, a downright villainy villain! The support cast is both strange and interesting: the lovable Tetu, the fanciful Marquis, the positively Dickensian Laxtons, and the laconic thespian Mr. Trippen. I think Sidonie de Villeduval was the only character that fell short — her subservience to her father is a bit of a stumbling block for her character, and I thought she should have had a bit more of a backbone.

By the time I came to the end of the novel, I wanted to read more, and I was delighted to discover the existence of a sequel, The Silver Blade, published just last year! I’ll definitely be hunting down that book.

The Red Necklace, paperback, 4.5/5 stars
book #55 for 2010 (and I’m slowly catching up on my book backlog)