Wednesday 11 November 2015


Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice
A sweeping story of danger, intrigue and young love, set against one of the most dramatic moments in history.

Célie Rousseau is a talented young artist who, along with her partner Algernon, resorts to petty thieving on the streets of Paris to survive. It is 1789: rumours of rebellion against the monarchy are starting to spread in the capital, and the two of them get involved in the idealistic revolutionary fervour. But when she is caught stealing from the brother of the King himself, Célie is saved only thanks to her drawing skills and the intercession of Marie Tussaud, the famous waxworks artist and a favourite at the French court, who decides to employ her.

Suddenly Célie finds herself whisked away from the tumult of Paris to the safety and opulence of Versailles. This raises a difficult moral dilemma for the young lady who had until recently dreamt of overthrowing the very people who now treat her with kindness: should she compromise her ideals and risk losing Algernon – whom she loves – or should she stay true to the cause of the poor and the revolution?

When I received this book from Bloomsbury, I didn't know anything about it. After reading the blurb, I wasn't sure if I would actually enjoy it. I haven't read many books about the French Revolution, and I'm really fussy about historical stories. But I do know who Madame Tussaud is, and the thought of her having an apprentice intrigued me.

So I decided to give it a go... and I'm glad I did.

Célie and Algernon are teenage orphans who live on the streets of Paris and survive the only way they know how--by stealing from the rich. After she lost her family, she nearly died on her way to Paris but was saved by Algernon. Not only does she owe him her life, but she's secretly in love with him.

The young girl also has a peculiar talent. She can remember every single detail she sees in front of her, and is then able to draw the scene. It's her artistic talent that gets her out of trouble after she is caught stealing.

When Manon Tussaud takes her into her care as her apprentice, she finds herself living in a comfortable home with nice, caring people who also teach her the trade of waxworks. Now she has shelter, food and a place to belong. The only thing missing is Algernon. She misses him, but he's caught up in his own cause.

Célie has always wanted equality in France, but after spending some time living in Versailles she realises that the royal family might actually be as much prisoners in their life of privilege as the poor people are in their misery. Nothing is black and white, but once she helps incite the revolution there's no going back. And as they say, heads will roll...

Wow. This book wasn't at all what I expected. In a good way.

I found myself swept up in Célie's story instantly, and couldn't wait to see where it would lead. I also really liked most of the characters. Actually, the only one I didn't like was Algernon. He was just so determined to change the world that he ends up being blinded by ambition, and often comes across as a callous user. Sometimes, when good people with good intentions attempt to shift the power away from oppressors, they become just as bad.

Madame Tussaud's Apprentice is a wonderful--yet sometimes quite bloody--coming-of-age story about a young girl trying to find her way in a miserable and dangerous city. It's also a story about finding hope after everything she cared about is taken from her, and realising that family isn't always blood. I also think that the French Revolution provided an intriguing and very violent backdrop for this timeless tale. Because this might be a historical story, but the hardship of the poor and the drama of love will never change.

I'm really glad I read this. And as soon as I finished it, I realised just how fitting the red cover is.

Here's the trailer:

Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice, November 2015, ISBN 99781846883811, Alma Books

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