Friday, December 11, 2015

The Brethren and City of Wisdom and Blood by Robert Merle

The Brethren Synopsis:

Consisting of 13 books written across 26 years, the adventure-filled epic Fortunes of France is one of France's best-loved historical fiction series. Never before published in English, book one, The Brethren, makes its debut in the US in the spring of 2015, followed in the fall by book two, City of Wisdom and Blood.

Two veteran soldiers retire to a castle in the wildly beautiful PĂ©rigord of sixteenth century France. But the country is descending into chaos, plagued by religious strife, famine, pestilence, bands of robbers... and, of course, the English.

In the course of their story we are introduced to a slew of vivid characters, including the fiery Isabelle, mistress of the castle, refusing to renounce her religious beliefs despite great pressure; the petty and meal-mouthed Francois, unlikely heir to the estate; the brave and loyal Jonas who lives in a cave and keeps a wolf as a pet; the swaggering soldier Cabusse; the outrageously superstitious Maligou, and Sarrazine, who once roamed as part of a wild gypsy band.

A sprawling, earthy tale of violence and lust, love and death, political intrigue and dazzling philosophical debate, The Brethren is the first step in an engrossing saga to rival Dumas, Flashmanand Game of Thrones.

The City of Wisdom and Blood Synopsis:

Montpellier in 1566 is one of the greatest seats of learning of the age, a cradle of Renaissance humanism. But even this proud city of philosophers is not safe from the menaces that endanger the peace of France--the city militia are struggling to contend with the lawlessness and religious hatred that threaten to tear the whole country in two. Only fools walk the streets at night unarmed, while a profession of faith in the wrong company can lead to a knife in the back. 

Now an adult, Pierre de Siorac must leave the family stronghold of Mespech, and travel south on dangerous roads to the great university city, accompanied by his strapping but naive brother Samson and the crafty Miroul. Well-armoured, with swords and pistols at their belts, the trio are confident of repelling any bandits who cross their path, but their new life away from the safety of their home will bring with it many other new dangers and delights.

Following on from The Brethren, City of Wisdom and Blood is the second book the sweeping saga, Fortunes of France.

In Book 1, The Brethren, Robert Merle has written an intensive historical novel set in France during one of its most turbulent periods. In 16th century France, battle rages between the Huegenots and the Catholics with murderous results from both sides. At the heart of the story are two compelling protagonists - Siorac and Sauvterre who try to hide their Protestant roots from the world as they amass their fortune. They swore an oath to become brothers, hence the title of the first book - The Brethren.

Merle does an excellent job of interweaving accurate historical detail with an interesting plot. This is pure historical fiction - with a strong focus on historical fact! This novel teaches as well as entertains. There are violent scenes throughout, a testament to the times, as well as struggles each character faces. 

Book 2 takes the reader a little further into the future. The point of view character is a Huguenot nobleman named Pierre. With his half-brother, Samson struggle to study in Montpellier which is predominantly Catholic. The religious battles and troubles continue in the second volume.

Robert Merle's strength is in his character development. His characters literally leap off the pages because they are so authentic, so complex, so human! And he likes to throw in the odd humorous scene which only serves to endear one to the characters more fully. 

The main theme throughout the books is the religious conflict that plagued France during the 16th century. Merle's novels are very strong in historical detail which sometimes overpowers the plot/storyline. For those who love rich historical fiction, this series is definitely for you!

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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