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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 27 August 2012
I have to admit, I skipped over sections of this book. So many, many names. Just too much detail at times.

However, this novel was refreshingly different to start with. Asa, the heroine, is strong-minded and independent, very anti-slavery, so not happy to be pursued by one Harry Shackleton, whose fortune is based on tobacco. But anyway, she is desperately in love with Didier Paulin a smooth Frenchie, who deflowers her early on in the book and is then absent for most of it.

Asa travels around quite a bit, having acquired a dodgy French female companion. She ends up back in Paris, after much sneaking around, because she is English, and therefore an enemy of the people of the Republic.

From about halfway through the book, you know how it's going to end. It does seem to take a while to get there, involving much mud and skirts being dragged through mud, and fans, always fans.

To be honest, I found this book a bit disappointing. The various sub-plots annoyed me (the tailor's wife, the dippy sister who marries the cad, the goody-two shoes Caroline Lambert). The only character I really liked was good old Harry, with his fancy waistcoats.

But even at the end, I still felt cheated of my happy ending, as we went straight to an 'epilogue'. I felt I deserved a good snogging scene after wading through all those gloomy prison cells.
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on 17 November 2011
It is 1788. It is Paris and, with Asa Ardleigh, heroine of Katharine McMahon's latest historical novel, we are enjoying the delights of the salon of Madame de Genlis. Everything is sumptuous, from the "swagged skirts" to the "marbled-floored entrance hall." It is here that our heroine meets dashing Didier Paulin. Instantly, they fall in love. Asa's family know nothing of her love for Didier and set about finding her a suitable husband. Enter Mr Harry Shackleford, the most elligble bachelor, a man to whom Asa's family's estate is entailed. A marriage to Shackleford would secure the family's financial needs forever.

And so a French maid for Asa is hired, someone who will teach her how to become 'a lady'. And if this sounds a little too much like transforming an 18th century ladette, cast that instantly from your mind. An 18th century lady must know how to use a fan, to paint, to dance and play the piano, and to embroider. Perhaps we feel, like Asa, that during this period of the story we are biding our time, waiting for something to happen. Fast foward five years and, unable to cast Didier from her mind, Asa returns secretly to France, by now in the grip of revolution.

No, I am not describing a chick-lit style bodice-ripper but a magnificent story which takes the reader to and fro between Georgian England - with its manor houses, farm houses and recently-built mansions - and revolutionary France.

This story brings vividly to life that tumultuous period in a gripping and realistic way and whilst it doesn't dwell on the violence, the obscene, neither does it shy away from it. Parts are written in an almost documentary style: we are privy to snippets of conversation; we are eye-witnesses to savagery, intrigue, death and destruction. It is the extremes in this book - the grandeur of pre-revolutionary France, the idyllic English countryside, and the stench of civil war - that take a straightforward story, that of a young woman in search of the man she loves, out of the ordinary and turn it into something special. If you read only one other book this year, make it this one. I do not think you will be disappointed.
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I have to say the synopsis for this book sounded a bit like Mills & Boon Regency Romance, and if it weren't for the fact that Katharine McMahon is fast becoming one of my favourite authors of historical fiction, I might have given this absorbing read a miss.

Season of Light contains all the right elements for a great historical read: a feisty heroine rebelling against the constraints society places on her, aristocrats behaving badly and an interesting period setting - in this case the Revolution in Paris and the endeavours of the abolitionist movement in England.

Following a trip to Paris for her sister's honeymoon, Asa Ardleigh is faced with the choice between two very different suitors - a dashing French revolutionary who steals her heart, and a foppish distant cousin who figuratively holds the keys to her family estate and has just inherited a business which was built on slavery (to which Asa is vehemently opposed). Inspired by the idea of reform in France, Asa throws herself into the abolitionist cause, much to the chagrin of her family who are desperate to ensnare a suitable (ie wealthy and landed) husband for her.

I was equally engaged with the parts of the book set on Asa's crumbling but sedate country estate in Sussex, and those in the violent, bloodsoaked streets of Paris to which she returns in search of her lover. Katherine McMahon has blended the two storylines skilfully and managed to include several real revolutionary figures in the narrative without it feeling like they were just there for the sake of it (as sometimes happens with this sort of historical fiction). The ending, whilst a little predictable, ties things up nicely. It's probably not my favourite of her novels (that would be The Crimson Rooms closely followed by The Alchemist's Daughter) but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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on 3 December 2011
It's a cliche that Jane Austen lived through the French Revolution but never mentions it in her novels. Katharine McMahon, author of several historical romances makes up for that; Jane Austen meets A Tale of Two Cities.

All the romance elements are there: the unwanted proposal, the attractive Mr Wickham figure who turns out to be a hollow man, the Darcy who is disliked until his real qualities shine through, the contriving sister and nasty brother-in-law. The historical background is well researched and the horrors of the revolution provide a terrifying background to a domestic novel, though never quite terrifying enough to stop the pleasure of the romance where we hope that all will turn out well in the end.

But will it? Has McMahon allowed her heroine to fall into the hands of the executioner and madame guillotine?

I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for you.

A good book to add to your Christmas list.
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on 24 June 2012
On the brink of the French Revolution, young Asa Ardleigh visits Paris where she falls in love with the handsome and enigmatic lawyer Didier Paulin. They embark on a brief love affair, before circumstances require her to return home to England, however, her heart remains his and she persistently shuns away her other suitor Harry Shackleford in the years that follow; years that bring about tumultous change in France. Indeed when Asa returns in search of her lover some time later, she is barely able to recognise the place. Now she finds her every step laced with danger as she risks everything for her former lover, and finds everything she ever once believed to be thrown into question!
Season of Light is vividly written, the descriptions of France during the revolution particularly well detailed such that images of the period are readily conjured from the page. McMahon includes references to true historical figures and events without the book becoming in danger of sounding too informative in style and without ever detering from the story itself. As well as detailing events in France, the novel also paints a picture of life in rural England at the time and touches upon the issues of slavery and abolition.
The latter parts of the novel in particular build in tension and reveal some rather shocking surprises in the story which the reader may not have initially suspected.
The central characters too are well conveyed and rounded, with Asa making for a sprightly heroine, albeit one with her faults as she learns to question her initial judgements of people and her perhaps rather naively idealistic views.
An engaging story, reminiscent in parts of Austen, with the French Revolution making for a thrilling backdrop.
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What a triumph!!! The twist to the story will leave you thinking "never saw that coming". One thing for sure, when I read this book I had not expected it to end the way it did (I'm generally disgustingly smug and rather arrogant in my abilities to predict how books would end).

Katherine McMahon has always managed to portray her characters extremely vividly. And she surpasses that talent in Season of Light. It's managed in a subtle, well written and intelligent manner. A fascinating study on strength and how we judge people by their actions, words and appearance. There are no one dimensional characters here. No character is rendered as truly evil or saintly good. Everyone has their weaknesses and strength. A realistic character assessment that develops as we continue to read. A satisfying, mature reflection of human nature. It challenges our preconception of the ultimate "hero".

This book questions whether progress in any form can be justified if it inflicts pain on others. Can we really think a Dream of Freedom can be simply manifested by good intention alone? Are passionate, strong but drastic actions better regardless of the consequences rather than measured, controlled but slow actions instead?

Its also an interesting comparison of how the English man is plodding along to develop democracy while the French fight and revolt... It also raises a discussion on slavery and its complications...

Asa is very much the type of fictional heroine you would expect... But then the rest of the book is completely unexpected.

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Paris in 1788 is on the brink of revolution. In the genteel salons of the aristocracy, nineteen year old ingénue, Thomasina Ardleigh is introduced to the scintillating world of the revolutionary, where she falls completely in love with the handsome and dangerous, Didier Paulin. When family circumstances force Thomasina to return home to England, she never forgets her love affair, and continues to hope for future happiness with Didier. However, the wheels of the revolution threaten the very safety of all those who remain in Paris and in 1793 when Thomasina secretly returns to France, her search for Didier involves her in dangerous political intrigue.
Reminiscent at times of the early work of Georgette Heyer, this novel is primarily a love story, and yet in the background, the French revolution is always bubbling under the surface, with enough description of historical events to make the story meaningful, and informative. I particularly enjoyed the social and political imagery of the revolution, and felt that the involvement of real historic figures helped to put the story into context. The social observations of Georgian England with all its faults and failings is very well done, particularly the descriptions of matrimonial conspiracies, and the lengths people went to, in order to maintain wealth and prosperity.
Overall, I thought that this was a really enjoyable read. The French Revolution is a huge topic to write about, and yet the author manages to convey the story without becoming over involved in sheer horror. There are some nice touches throughout, with likeable and believable characters, and a pleasing conclusion. I enjoyed it, and recommend it to those of my friends who enjoy historical novels.
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Thomasina 'Asa' Ardleigh is the spirited, abolitionist heroine of this wonderful historical novel. It is 1788 and Asa is in Paris with her newly married sister Philippa. There is talk of change in the air, and there are revolutionary ideas being discussed. Asa has sympathies with the revolutionaries, and is enlivened by the talk around her. 'Yes, this was it. This was being alive; to be amid people who were actually at the heart of tumult and change.' When she meets Didier Paulin, a dazzling man full of ideas for change, she falls in love with him. However, as events in France turn more precarious, the sisters return to England, and Asa goes home to her father. Their home, the Ardleigh estate, is entailed to Harry Shackleford, whom Asa's other sister Georgina sees as an ideal match for Asa. Georgina begins to meddle, and a mysterious French émigrée, Madame de Rusigneux, is employed to instruct Asa in refined ways of behaviour. Asa hears of the events in France and has to decide where her future, and her heart, will lead her.

The author captures the atmosphere and mood of the period beautifully; I felt like I was walking with Asa through the scarred, troubled streets of Paris when she returns there, and could picture the scenes amongst the angry crowds. The details of the revolution and the mention of real figures from that time are enough for a reader who knows little of the events to understand the times, but the background is never too dense to deter from the storyline. Equally, with echoes of Austen, she conveys through Asa the situation for a young woman in society at that time whose life, however independent a woman they were, depended on making a good match with a man of means;

'The books that Asa had studied with Caroline, her work among the poor, the vigorous walks she had taken on the Downs, above all her precious love affair; all that made up Thomasina was reduced to this muslin-wrapped bag of flesh labelled Miss Ardleigh, available to the highest bidder.'

This is such enjoyable writing, with some wonderful creations, especially Asa and the enigmatic Madame. Georgina is also wonderful as the interfering sister who feigns doing a lot of work and actually does very little other than meddle, and is over dramatic about it all. 'I suppose I shall have to organise everything, as usual. The fact is,' dramatic pause, 'I have invited a surprise visitor to Morton Hall.' In Harry Shackleford we have a kind, generous young man, but who is tainted, in Asa's eyes, by the slavery through which his family have made their fortune. Asa is forward-thinking and has a strong social conscience. It all makes for another really good read by a favourite author of mine, with rich period detail, witty dialogue and a compelling storyline.
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on 14 February 2013
Couldn't put it down. I think her best yet. Wonderful historical novel written with a feel of the people caught up in the years before and during the French Revolution.
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on 12 April 2013
A great read that hooks you from the opening chapters. The slightly different tone to Katharine's other historical novels made me think I'd landed in an Austen plot at first: a feisty herione with an eccentric family, plus two suitors and a love rival. But set against a backdrop of the French revolution and the abolition of slavery, the tension builds steadily throughtout and reaches a satisfying end. Highly recommended.
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