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VINE VOICEon 23 August 2008
Reading this third volume recounting the adventures of Makepeace Burke and her family I've been struck by the relevance of it's background themes to the situation we find ourselves in today. 'Though I had a serious 2 year immersion in the French Revolution when studying it for A Level (back in the dim and distant 60s) I'd forgotten that there was a similar backlash against liberal values and the rights of the citizen in Britain then as there has been in the reaction of western governments to the threat of terror today. It may have been the Terror in the wake of the revolution that triggered it then but the response to perceived threat over 200 years later has been notably similar. Only reading this did I make the connection.

Having said that, this volume is as compelling as the previous two and I have continued to chortle my way through it despite the suspense created by this very witty and perceptive author. The consistent humour is in the telling of the tale and the characters of those who inhabit it. Though it's probably too much to ask, one could only hope that this set might turn into the kind of series created by Patrick O'Brian. (While reading that I always felt that there was the subject matter of a parallel set of novels in the lives of Sophie and Diana back in England.) This is of similar narative quality and she is an author for whose recommendation I am indebted to Amazon. Now begins a scouring of the second-hand market for the rest of her output and, as it's two years since this one appeared, can one live in hope of an imminent fourth volume?
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If you've read the two previous Diana Norman books in this series (A Catch of Consequence and Taking Liberties) then this is a must. While not a trilogy, the three books do follow in sequence and have some of the same characters, but unlike many series (in my opinion) the author hasn't got stuck into a rut, and doesn't simply churn out the same story with different names.

We're now in the late C18th during the French revolution: Makepeace Hedley, the 'heroine' of the two other books is widowed and in London and ends up running a theatre company for her brother while pursuing her hatred of slavery. But the centre of the book is built on Philippa, her daughter, now in her mid-twenties and suffering from unrequited love for Andrew Ffoulkes (a child in the first book) and so settling for marriage with a well-meaning but chilly reformer. She ends up in Paris to help smuggle out a one-time revolutionary who has now become the victim of the Terror and finds her life transformed in all kinds of ways.

Norman writes excellent historical fiction built around characters rather than polemic. While she sets her stories against a background of politics (The American revolution, slavery, the growth of industrialism, womens' rights, the French revolution) they are background and never eclipse the heart of the tale which always revolve around the people. Her characters are alive, flawed, frequently struggling and yet wonderfully endearing; her dialogue is flowing and realistic and often very funny in a dry witty way; and their relationships real. No-one is ever a hero or heroine because no-one is that perfect and the books are all the better for it. Norman I think is an underestimated writer and far, far better than the ubiquitous Philippa Gregory.
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on 17 February 2012
Though not a lover of fiction set against the background of the French Revolution
I enjoy Diana Norman's work whatever the setting, including this novel, which for
some reason I had failed to come across beforehand. I finished it with great sadness,
since she died not so long ago. I have loved all her books, but in particular when
she wrote in a different incarnation as Ariana Franklin, in stories set in the
time of Henry II. She will be missed.
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on 2 April 2014
Why Diana Norman is not a giant among historical novelists, I cannot imagine. Sadly, I only discovered her books after her death, but I have now read them all. She has also published under the pseudonym of Ariana Franklyn. All of her books are excellent - whatever name she uses. Highly recommended.
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on 17 June 2013
It was an enjoyable read but not a book that I will keep in my own bookcases. It didn't grip my mind or memory.
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on 28 February 2012
Usually a huge fan of Diana Norman but I really couldn't get into this book at all. Didn't especially enjoy the last 2 books about Makepeace and really want something new and fresher from her.
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on 24 August 2015
story most intriguing. excellent
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