Stott (Ghostwalk, 2007, etc.) once again juxtaposes science with a tale of love, mystery and intrigue, setting this volatile mix against a backdrop of critical events in post-Revolutionary France.
Daniel Connor, whose dark curls and handsome face invite comparisons to the boys painted by Caravaggio, meets fascinating intellectual Lucienne and her small daughter Delphine in coach en route to Paris in 1815. The Emperor Napoleon has been vanquished and is on a ship bound for his place of exile on the island of Saint Helena, leaving behind a changing city. Former master criminal Jagot has risen to a position of power with the police, and this cunning, ruthless man has more than a passing interest in the exotic Lucienne. Daniel, a medical student, hopes to escape his tedious existence by landing a position as an assistant to the famous French naturalist Georges Cuvier; he carries with him letters of introduction, scientific notebooks, a priceless manuscript, some corals and a mammoth bone. His future in Paris looks grim when he awakes at the Barrier of Saint Denis on the city’s outskirts to find Lucienne and Delphine gone from the coach, along with his irreplaceable papers and specimens. After filing a complaint with Jagot at the Palais de Justice, Daniel discovers that Lucienne is not a thief (exactly), but she’s also not everything she seems. Her fascination with “transformism” (the philosophy of evolution) both compels and repels the classically educated Daniel. But he is increasingly drawn to the much older Lucienne, a survivor of the Revolution who “was perpetually both whispering secrets and withholding them.” Despite misgivings, Daniel risks his future in a gamble that will forever change the way he thinks.
Skillfully embeds early 19th-century culture, history and attitudes into a story that flows like the Seine and floods the senses.