Disclaimer: I received a copy of Spirit of Lost Angels from Liza Perrat, an independent author, in exchange for a unpaid honest review.
Spirit of Lost Angels is Liza Perrat’s debut historical fiction novel. Her protagonist, Victoire Charpentier, is born in the small village of Lucie-sur-Vionne, in the 18th Century France. Her family consists of her mother, mid-wife and angel maker, her father, carpenter, older brother, Gregoire, and younger twin siblings. It is some time before Victoire realizes angel maker means her mother aborts unwanted pregnancies, a revelation that shocks and grieves her.
Fate is unkind to the Charpentier family. A fierce lightening and thunder storm fires their homestead and the twins perish in the inferno. Life is never the same after that. Her father must travel to find work and is often away from the small room the parish has provided for the Charpentier family until the homestead can be rebuilt. That project grows more unlikely as years pass with rising prices for food and scarce work.
One saving grace, a fortune Victoire will rely upon later in life, is her mother teaches her “her letters” in the belief it is the only way Victoire can rise from poverty. Her father teaches her of the world beyond the gates of Lucie-sur-Vionne.
Fate is not finished with the Charpentier family. Her father returning home ill from travels is trampled by a nobleman’s carriage, who does not deign to stop, and dies of his injuries. Thus is born Victoire’s hatred of the nobility.
Her mother is unable to shake the melancholy that dogs her every day after her husband’s violent death. At his funeral, she speaks the unforgivable “Dieu n’existe plus!” and swears never to enter a church again. She begins to teach Victoire herbal medicine and midwifery.
Suspicions mount against Victoire’s mother of witchery. Villagers believe anyone who denies God exists curses the village with black magic.
The river, Vionne, plays a central role in Spirit of Lost Angels. It is the secret place Gregoire and Victoire sneak off to play in the waters against their mother’s strict orders. Here Victoire meets Leon, the son of wealthy farmer Armond Bruyere, and carries a secret love.
Now the river is the tool for the death of Victoire’s mother. She is drowned in the Vionne by the men of Lucie as a witch. In her last moments, she manages to pass an angel pendant she always wears to Victoire. Victoire will not be part with the pendant until she too passes it on.
Now an orphan, the parish priest arranges for Victoire to be employed as a servant in a noble house. Victoire still nurses her hatred of the nobility, but leaves for Paris to earn the few sous desperately needed for survival. The Baron, her employer, believes Victoire is his for the taking when he so desires. Before long she is pregnant.
Fortunately, for Victoire, she has made a true friend in Claudine, the cook, who helps birth Victoire’s daughter, Rubie. Victoire makes the agonizing decision to leave Rubie as a foundling or they will both be thrown on the streets by the Baron to starve. Victoire leaves the angel pendant and a letter in Rubie’s basket.
Victoire maintains communications with the parish priest of Lucie who writes to tell her Armond Bruyere’s wife has died and he has recommended Victoire to Armond as a wife to care for his children. Victoire returns exuberantly to Lucie to marry Armond, the only marr on her happiness being his son, Leon, will always be forbidden to her.
The wedding takes place and Victoire and Armond build up a flourishing business as innkeepers. She begins to lose her tenuous grip on reality when Armond dies within a few years of fever. She, like her mother, suffers maladie du coeur. Her twin children drown in the Vionne while under her supervision in an incident she cannot recall.
The loss of her children is the final blow and Victoire fully descends into blackness and delerium. The men of the village decide to send her to the la Salpetriere asylum of Paris. A bailiff arrives to take her away:
|“Child murder is one of the most heinous crimes known to man,” the bailiff proclaimed. “You, widow Bruyere, are to be incarcerated for life in la Salpetriere asylum of Paris.”As they dragged me off, I had not the slightest idea what the man was talking about.|
Spirit of Lost Angels may seem an endless tragedy, yet it is not. Perrat writes of a heroine frequently bereaved and much misused in her short lifetime. Yet, the spirit is never completely extinguished in Victoire. She fights her way back from the darkness of the soul against horrendous odds.
Victoire takes incredible risks and one dangerous, albeit extremely fortunate, opportunity to forge a new life; not the perfect one she dreams of, but one grounded in reality. Her literacy propels her to fame and infamy as she avenges her father and the victims of the French Revolution through words.
It may seem Spirit of Angels is without glimmer of light, but, despite the physical and mental blows and lessons about the vagaries of love, Perrat infuses the novel with Victoire’s determination to overcome adversities and find forgiveness within herself. Once again, the river Vionne plays a part, as does an unlikely redemption and reconciliation.
This is a wonderful debut novel by Liza Perrat. She avoids the trap of allowing her protagonist to miraculously find her way. There are no miracles in Spirit of Angels, but small blessings along the journey. I am impressed with Perrat’s knowledgeable treatment of the role of women during one of France’s most tumultuous times, as well as the complexities of insular village life.
My rating: 4/5 Stars (Excellent)
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