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The Wolf's Sun: Intrigue in 17th Century France Paperback – 13 Sep 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 630 pages
  • Publisher: Createspace (13 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1466338741
  • ISBN-13: 978-1466338746
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,903,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author



Q. You were reared on a ranch in north Idaho, but spent most of your life away. Why did you come back?

A. Like Torie in my novel, I wanted to experience life elsewhere.

My husband Jay and I moved back to the ranch three years ago, after spending nearly 20 years in Laramie, Wyoming. Before that we lived in the Washington, D.C. area. For seven years I served as a captain in the Army JAG Corps. I also lived in Puebla, Mexico for three years many years ago. They say you can't go home again, but you can, only it won't be the same. We refurbished my childhood home, but I still run into my younger self going around corners. The experience of now living where I grew up is filled with haunted memories.

Q. So, is the setting in the novel the ranch you grew up on?

A. Yes, for the most part. I was living in Wyoming when I wrote A Devil Singing Small and I had a lot of nostalgia for the place. On my Facebook page, I've placed some photos of the ranch and views from it of the valley and mountains - just in case the readers are having trouble imagining it for themselves. It's really a lovely area and the photos don't do it justice.

Q. This is a novel, but is it based on actual events?

A. It's a work of fiction. Every writer is influenced by his or her life experiences. My father's schizophrenia was a part of my growing up. I wanted to make the illness that Mitch and Betty and their two children have to live with as authentic as I could, so I based it on my father's illness, with barely a deviation. Every person suffering from schizophrenia is different - I portrayed how it actually affected my father - and my mother.

Q. Is that a photo of your parents on the cover, and are those medals your dad's?

A. Yes.

Q. You wrote the entire novel first person from Betty's perspective, rather than using the all-knowing third person. Why was that?

A. It's a family story and family stories are more often than not told by the womenfolk. And in trying to understand why a mentally ill person did certain things, I didn't have the temerity to attempt to view the world from the mind of my character, Mitch. I could only observe him as his wife and children did. No matter how much compassion I felt toward my father, I could never understand his inner life - I could only observe its manifestations.

Q. Why did you title it A Devil Singing Small?

A. Years ago I read the poem, "Thirty Bob a Week," by the Scottish poet John Davidson -- a sort of poor working man's song. I never forgot the lines, "I step into my heart and there I meet, A god-almighty devil singing small . . ." It seemed to fit the story I wanted to tell about mental illness and family relations, and how our lives can seem redirected by some devilish entity down a road we would not have chosen.

Q. Would you describe it as a generational novel?

A. Yes, I think I would. Each generation is linked to the one before and the one after, issues of inherited qualities and transmission of culture and how the world is viewed. The sadness of Mitch's being reared in an orphanage broke that influence in most aspects, but not in all. One of Betty's concerns is keeping the family unit together, so there will be a continuum.

Q. What about the son, Michael? He was born the same year you were.

A. And the same month. The character Michael was a result of my wondering how my life would have been different if I'd been born a boy. I would have gone to Vietnam as Michael did. I did eventually go into the army, but it was by my own choice, and not as a result of forces beyond my control.

Q. How did you decide on the ending?

A. I think that the ending was a natural progression of the story. It seemed to choose itself. And I hope that anyone writing a review won't give it away. I recall when I was reading Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent. I was sitting in my office with my door open, and two attorneys I worked with, who had just asked me if I'd finished it, began discussing it just outside my door and gave away the ending. It really ruined the intrigue of the rest of the novel for me. I don't think people should ever divulge any book's ending.

Q. How long did it take you to write A Devil Singing Small?

A. I began writing it in the mid-90s. I worked on it for a couple of years. I sent it to a few agents, and they sent it back with suggestions. I sent it to a publishing house of women's fiction and it was sent back with the comment, "Betty should have left Mitch if she thought he was a danger to their children." That sort of threw me. The circumstance of the story was the times and environment Betty lived in - women didn't so easily leave Catholic marriages in the 1950s. She didn't have the self-confidence, educational background or family support to make such a drastic change. And it is a novel about fortitude. So, I put it away until recently. After all of these years I was able to view it with fresh eyes and revise it so that I hope it's acceptable to an audience that might ask the same question - why didn't she just leave him? After all, hardly any spouse remains married to a schizophrenic.

Q: Do you have any siblings?

A: I'm an only child

Q. Your author photo was taken with one of your cats. Amazon requested that no pets be shown in the author photo.

A. Oh, that. My eBay business and my publishing house are both called Ship's Cat Books. A cat is integral to my image of myself as an author. I always had a cat as a muse, lying next to me while I wrote. It seemed natural to share the spotlight with one of them.


Q: Why did you decide to write a historical novel about Brittany and France during the reign of Louis XIV?
A: I began my research about 25 years ago and don't really recall what first sparked my interest in the Breton Peasant Rebellion of 1675. But, when I realized that the Breton peasants had used social and economic demands - as well as organized violence -- in an attempt to alleviate the tax burden imposed on them by the monarchy and aristocracy more than a hundred years before the French Revolution, I was fascinated. What drove these people to such desperation? What was life like for a Breton peasant? Why was western Brittany referred to by the French as "savage" Brittany?

Q: So, why did the French call it "savage" Brittany?
A: The Bretons are Kelts -- the same as the Welsh, Scots and Irish -- with similar pagan beliefs, such as the Cult of the Dead, and wondrous folklore. They moved from Cornwall to Brittany after the Roman retreat from Britain. The Jesuits did intense missionary work among them in the 17th century, though they proved hard to fully Christianize. The Society of Jesus also took an active role in attempting to calm the ferment of the 1675 rebellion.

Q: You started this book before the Internet became available as a research tool. How did you find out so much about Breton culture and the Breton language?

A: I was fortunate to have the use of some very good university libraries. As for the Breton language, a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy was kind enough to lend me her copy of a Breton-English dictionary.

Q: Why did you spend nearly a third of your novel dealing with the build-up to and the aftermath of the rebellion, following your main character's life from about age 14 to 16?

A: This really is Anna's story, within the context of her fellow Bretons as well as her tumultuous later life in France. Who she is, and where she comes from, not only direct her life but also the lives of the people who love and despise her. Two characters from her Breton childhood, the Jesuit du Trevou, and Per ar Drez -- the brother of her first love -- reappear in Paris, one stalking her, the other intent on protecting her. Anna's future is inseparable from her Breton past.

Q: Was the character of the demoiselle de Fontanges a real person?

A: She was a very real, beautiful and tragic figure -- probably the last mistress of Louis XIV as he transitioned from the libertine Mme de Montespan to the religious Mme de Maintenon. Very little is known about her teen years while she was being prepared for court life, and that allowed me to use my imagination; but, we know she was the talk of Paris after she caught the King's eye.

Q: Would you call this a historical romance?

A: Although there are sexual encounters between various characters, it is not a fantasy sex novel, such as Outlander, which I enjoyed reading. But it is a romance novel in the larger sense, in that characters take realistic risks for emotional and physical love. They're caught up in a maelstrom they attempt to influence and direct, but events at times limit or remove their freedom of choice.

Q: One of your male protagonists, Luc de St. Connec, is a physician and you give a lot of insight into the practice of 17th century medicine. It raised my eyebrows occasionally.

A: Medicine in the 17th century was fraught with superstition, ignorance, outdated tradition -- and dead patients. Luc might have been born a couple of centuries too early. He believes that medicine is a work in progress and he has an intense curiosity about the relationship of disease to its symptoms. When Anna uses her hands to heal his lacerated face, the whole basis of his rational thought is shaken to its core. He wants to understand how she does it, because he believes everything has a rational explanation -- but he also desires to use her for his own ambitions. Their relationship, often in conflict, drives much of the story. He is a complicated man -- charming, ambitious, courageous, and flawed.

Q. Your other protagonist is the English diplomat and spy, John Keyes.

A: Charles II was always worried that his cousin Louis would turn on him, and so he deployed a legion of spies to France. In fact, it could be said that all Englishmen in France were spies during that time. While I'm fond of all of my characters, I especially like John Keyes. He's true to his convictions, he stands by his friends, and he loves Anna/Anne -- but his first loyalty is to his king. Later, guilt-ridden that his devotion to his mission in France created an act of omission that endangered Anne, he puts his spycraft to personal use on her behalf.

Q: Was the Affair of Poisons as frightening an episode in French history as you describe it?

A: Yes. And we wouldn't know much about it -- except for rumor -- if La Reynie, the head of the Paris police, hadn't kept secret notes about his investigations and interrogations, as well as admissions made during the torture of suspects accused of poisonings, black masses, and witchcraft. His notes were discovered many years later. Louis XIV, in attempting to be a modern king, had banned witchcraft trials in 1672, declaring that witches did not exist. But suspects under interrogation and torture in the Affair of Poisons began pointing their fingers at the King's mistress, accusing her of witchcraft, and that's when the cover-up began. I did research in original French sources, and was astonished at what I found.

Q: What is the key to good historical fiction?

A: The key to good historical fiction is good history. Writers can add characters impacted by actual events and create small events that impact their individual situations, but writers should not change history to suit their plots. I don't use the historical background of this novel gratuitously; it informs the characters and drives the plot.

Q: The Court of Miracles featured prominently in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Did you rely on it for a description of this criminal slum?

A: No, I did my own historical research.

Q: Are the letters of historical persons you quote from authentic?

A: All of the letters from French historical figures are real, as are Henry Savile's letters back to England. I feel they add to the flavor of the times.

Q: The crown's persecution of the French Protestants provides another important historical background for this story. How accurately do you portray it?

A: Very accurately. The persecution of the Huguenots was a watershed event not only for France, but also for Holland, England, other Protestant European states and the English colonies. The French Huguenots populated what is now the American South. Why did it happen? The Huguenot characters and the English Protestants in my story can't understand why Louis XIV would persecute a people who had always been loyal to him -- even when his Catholic nobles had turned on the crown when he was a boy. It's difficult even today to understand why he eventually suppressed and drove out of France a good slice of the middle class. Most likely, it was because Louis was educated by the Jesuits and they were his advisors throughout his kingship. The Jesuits apparently felt threatened by Protestantism, a religion that allowed the practitioner to think for himself about his salvation and, perhaps, about kingship.

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By John Hopper TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 14 Aug. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
This extremely well written historical novel is set in 17th century Brittany and Paris, around the life of a Breton peasant girl, Anna ar Marac. It is very much a novel of two halves. The first part was set in Brittany with a lot of detail about the lives of the Breton peasants, including their revolt against their French rulers imposing harsh measures like the hated gabelle, or salt tax; despite being well researched and with some moving scenes, I found this part tough going and considered giving up on it, as for the most part there seemed little plot or sense that the rest of this 625 pager would be different, rather the author seemed to be using the book as a vehicle for her interest in Breton peasant culture of the period. But I'm glad I persevered. The second half which I read in a third of the time it took me to get through the first was set in Paris at the time of the alleged poisonings supposedly carried out by King Louis XIV's mistress Madame De Montespan. Anna here is Anne De St Nolf, forced to play a role as cousin to a French Huguenot noble, whose life and adventures would easily merit a novel of their own. This half is full of romance, intrigue, horror and adventure and had the feel of Victor Hugo about it. This brilliant latter part raises the novel's rating.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Although a little slow moving in parts, the historical details and interweaving of real and fictional characters and situations has produced an excellent read. The development of Anne's character from superstitious peasant to circumspect prisoner was shown with depth and skill - the actual outcomes for the three main characters far from what could have been forseen at the start of this historical tale. Bravo!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 33 reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
The best book I've read all year 11 July 2011
By TMickey - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Within the pages The Wolf's Sun are three great story-tellers: Gaid, the Mamm-gozh, ancient matriarch of a tiny 17-century Breton village; Anna, her great-granddaughter and the central character; and, greatest of all, Karen Charbonneau who has created them both. Indeed, Charbonneau has created a wonderfully rich world, in which even the most minor character, from the most abject peasant to the actual historical figures in Louis XIV's court, shines as a living, breathing human being. There are no stereotypes, no waxwork figures here. They are people, populating a vibrant slice of history. We believe they are real, because they are alive on the page. Without resorting to either faux archaism or inappropriate modernism (the reader will find neither "Yea, Sirrah," nor "No siree, Bob"), they are depicted in all their human strengths and weaknesses.

I've read a good many historical novels in my time, but few that manage to combine the depths of research with the easy flow of narration found here. There is no ponderous lecturing, no heavy history lessons. There is, instead, a sweeping tale of humble and great people caught up in very human situations. Those situations may range from the revolt of Breton peasants, possessed of a rich and ancient culture, yet so poor and isolated that the greater world is almost a fantasy, to the schemings of a royal court that dazzled the world, and from the great religious and political conflicts of the late 17th Century to the scenes of daily life high and low in Paris, but they always ring true.

In addition to her vibrant depiction of the time, Charbonneau has a great sense of place. The physical worlds of Brittany and of Paris come alive in her writing. This is a grand epic of a book, and yet an intimate story of human beings facing the questions that we all must face. There is in this wonderful book passion (religious and physical; the sexual situations are neither prurient nor prim), hunger (physical and spiritual), great good humor, thrilling action, and, above all, excellent writing. I have recommended this book to everyone I know. I have recommended it to total strangers I've spotted reading on a Kindle. I recommend it, highly, to you.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful surprise 9 July 2011
By Susan Rice - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was recommended by another Kindle reader who knew I liked historical fiction. I am, however, very critical of writers who research an era thoroughly and then feel it necessary to insert every single fact they learned. Ms. Charbonneau had clearly devoted time and care to her research, but there were no extraneous facts, nothing thrown in just because it interested the author. It feels deeply and accurately based in the 17th Century and even uses some documents of the period to anchor the narrative. The book is seamless and carries us through a very distant period with style and panache. The characters all seem entirely true to the era -- their thoughts and superstitions seem entirely right for the time, and no squeak of anachronism is ever heard. The strength of the characters carries us through the remarkable arc of the story, from rural peasant life to the court of Louis XIV, and every incident seems believable.

The book has another power as well. The very best books create a world, an atmosphere, so vivid and so distant from 21st Century America that it's easy to forget you're reading. Every time I fired up my Kindle and opened The Wolf's Sun, it felt like I took a deep breath and dove into a completely different cosmos. It felt like I wasn't reading the story, I'd simply been swallowed by it. This author has a strong narrative gift, real descriptive powers, and coupled with her obvious intelligence she's clearly someone to follow.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Review 20 Feb. 2011
By katrinka - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
The Wolf's Sun is a long historical novel, so it won't appeal to those who like their literature in quick bursts. The first third is highly entertaining and rather different from what I was used to reading - 17th Century Breton peasant myth and violence as the girl Anna begins her journey into history. She has the gift of healing with her hands and is taken by a young physician Luc de St. Connec, who has plans for her. The second part of the novel introduces the future duchesse de Fontanges, mistress of Louis XIV, and has some interesting characters such as the Italian dwarf Carlo Balbi; it is during this period Anna becomes Anne de St. Nolf and learns French and manners at Luc's cousin's chateau. After Luc leaves for Martinique, a few chapters dragged a bit for me because there are two teenage girls and the future duchesse is pretty vapid. But, never fear -- stay with it because they go to Paris and Court and Luc returns. And then all hell breaks loose for Anne and Luc. I forgot to mention the English spy John Keyes, but you'll see for yourself if you read this well-written novel. And see my review for the author's other work.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The Wolf's Sun by Karen Charbonneau 1 Sept. 2012
By Mary - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
The book is set in Seventeenth Century France, which is my favourite period for historical novels. I bought it immediately and was not disappointed. The book starts out with a healer who, as a young girl lives in a small Breton village. She is obliged to leave, in danger of being tried as a witch and purchased by a man who hopes to exploit her healing abilities. From then on the action takes place in Paris, Versailles, the Court of Miracles in Paris and involves the duchesse de Fontanges, the mistress of Louis the Fourteenth - the Sun King and the poisoning scandals of the time. It is a lengthy book but I was unable to put it down by the time I reached the middle of it. The suspense, and well-drawn characters kept me reading until I reached the end, within two days.
The historical research is obvious. Since becoming hooked on this period, due to finding a succession of earlier novels by Sargeanne Golon and Joan Sanders, I have bought many histories of the time and I was familiar with the material and characters, apart from the Breton villagers' life at the beginning of the book. It was good to see the histories brought to life in this book. Very well written. I would recommend it to anyone who likes historical novels.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Historical Fiction at its Finest 21 Oct. 2012
By C. Galford - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
I have said it before and I'll say it again: there are too few quality historical fiction narratives yet lodged among the hall of trophies on the indie side of literary manor. Charbonneau`s marvelous delivery is surely among them.

The Wolf's Sun is a beautifully crafted, richly detailed rendering of 17th century France, peppered with a cast of colorful characters and historical tidbits that leave us with a book I can describe only as "sweeping" in scope. And it is at that. This is a long read, but well worth it. Not only does one become engrossed in the mechanisms and doings of the characters, when you emerge again from the captivating narrative, you find yourself pondering how much you have actually learned, actually pulled still fresh and gleaming from the fertile wealth of that rich French soil.

To say it plainly: this book is well-researched, and planted easily among the boundaries of its period of history. It also helps that it is well edited, and professionally delivered--I doubt you shall ever feel stricken by any sense of "amateur hour" while in the midst of this book.

But I caution thus: it is slow to get going. You will likely ponder, in the first 10% of the book or so, just what the point is, and where it is going. Because this is not just a story, it is the telling of a life, and the lives around it, and for that, that central crux takes some getting to. While in later chapters the multiple viewpoints structure gives us a great deal of insight into the characters, and to the events surrounding, in the beginning it has something of a muddled effect, pulling us this way and that without seeing the why, or even, who shall be our inevitable fixing point. When this shifts, however, you will know it, and Wolf's Sun truly hits smooth sailing from then on.

Through Charbonneau's writing we see a vibrant world, carefully honed and crafted, with figures and scenes that are strikingly realistic...and captivating for it. It puts us, as well, in a unique scandal--the Affair with Poisons--and delivers it to us in a way that, in spite of its breadth, never feels bogged down by its details, but rather, enhances its portrait. This is not a quick read by any means. But for the patient, and the great fan of history, it is well worth the investment of time.

I definitely recommend it.
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