A mixed-race young woman attempts to find love, freedom, and her cultural identity amid the revolutionary throes of 18th-century Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and Paris.
Eighteen-year-old Sylvie de Rosiers was born free, though the shadow of her mother’s enslavement remains an unshakeable part of her life. Her race bars her from entering certain echelons of aristocratic society, but as the daughter of a White coffee plantation owner, she also enjoys certain luxuries—a life of leisure on her family’s large estate and the hope of one day marrying a powerful man who belongs to the mixed-race affranchi class. After the public execution of the rebel Vincent Ogé, however, a slave uprising forces her to question the privileges her upbringing has afforded her. She and her brother, Gaspard, flee to Paris to seek refuge with an aunt, and Sylvie soon befriends Cornélie Duplay, a painter and the mistress of the famous revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre. Although Sylvie appreciates new freedoms in France, she still finds herself on the margins of society. The royalists disdain her because of her mixed-race heritage, and the lower-class republicans, the sans-culottes, revile her bourgeois status. Amid Sivak’s vividly drawn portrait of the bloody political and civil unrest in Paris during the last years of the Revolution, Sylvie finds her romantic passions in turmoil as well. While her admiration for Robespierre grows, she also finds herself increasingly attracted to Cornélie. As an ascending faction within the National Convention intensifies the call to purge anyone deemed a traitor to the Republic, Sylvie finds her heart increasingly torn between love and duty as she painstakingly comes to terms with the steep costs of both.
An incandescent tale of the French Revolution from the perspective of those history often renders invisible.