Scruggs’ (The View from Brindley Mountain, 2009, etc.) historical novel tells a story of 17th-century France, as viewed through the eyes of a traveling troubadour.
Charles Coypeau, who wrote under the pen name “Dassoucy,” was a real-life poet and playwright who performed throughout Italy and France in the 1600s and knew many famous historical figures. Despite pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps and practice law, Dassoucy instead followed his passion and embraced the arts. He was a prolific writer who used lyrics and verses to express opinions about political and social issues—a potentially risky business in an increasingly conservative society. In this novel, he relates the story of his life as he rests in a Paris dungeon, likely due to inflammatory statements he made in a satirical poem. He recalls his most famous works and his various escapades as he gambled and performed his way across Europe. Well-known leaders, including kings Louis XIII and XIV and Cardinal Richelieu appear, as does Molière and Cyrano de Bergerac. Dassoucy’s personal and professional success waxes and wanes as he attempts to find favor with the court and his peers. Scruggs delivers an ambitious tale, giving voice to an artist from the shadows of history. However, although Dassoucy is an intriguing character, the novel spends too much time documenting his travels and offers little insight into Dassoucy’s deeper emotions or motivations. It also often neglects to develop action and suspense to drive the plot forward, and instead gets bogged down in a recitation of names and places. Better-developed supporting characters, as well, might have allowed readers to gain new understandings of people more commonly found in European history books.
A solid but academic read that lacks the passion of its protagonist.