Cabasson’s (Wolf Hunt, 2008, etc.) third Quentin Margont novel finds the loyal republican soldier caught up in the home-front chaos brought on by Bonaparte’s retreat from Russia.
It’s March 1814, and the Little Corporal is being driven home by the allied armies of Russia, Austria, Prussia and more. Lt. Col. Margont has been relegated to rear-echelon duty because his mentor, Col. Saber, raised the hackles of superior officers. Margont, an experienced officer with a talent for solving unusual problems, is ordered to appear at the offices of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s older brother. There he meets the inept sibling and the "limping devil," Talleyrand. The pair want him to infiltrate a royalist conspiracy group, Swords of the King, that has apparently assassinated Col. Berle, who’s drawing up plans for the defense of the capital. Cabasson knows his revolutionary history and its ever fluid loyalties and betrayals. His sketches of Margont—who "tended to see everything as black or white"—and Joseph, who styles himself Joseph I, King of Spain, and Talleyrand—who sees a "world of infinite shades of grey"—kick off the story marvelously. Margont copes with duplicity while being a duplicitous undercover agent himself. With a macabre back story, the conspiracy’s leader, Vicomte Louis de Leaume, proves a great catalyst, though he fades away as the conspiracy ripens following the Battle of Montmartre. As with his depiction of that battle and the disarray on Paris streets following the allied occupation, Cabasson’s descriptions of dank Paris garrets and candle-lit meetings seem spot-on, right down to his antagonist’s motivation being more personal —a little psycho-history here—than political. Cabasson’s discussions on the "paradox of liberty," women’s rights, religion and more come across well in translation, and his anecdotal exploration of curare’s coming to Europe fits the narrative perfectly.
A solid combination of historical fiction and adventure perhaps better appreciated by those familiar with the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras.