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Why no cover? Because most of the newer editions of this series are questionable translations and a bad translation = a mediocre Dumas novel. There are libraries that have the 100 year old editions and if you want to read this series I recommend going that route.

4.0 out of 5 stars Book one in Dumas’ tale of The French Revolution

Joseph Balsamo begins with a meeting in the dead of night high in the mountains as a group of robed and hooded freemasons from around the world meet to plot the fall of the French Monarchy (it’s actually more complicated than that, but I’m not going to try to put it into words). The leader of this group, Joseph Balsamo, then takes shelter in a storm at the impoverished household of the Baron de Taverney and his daughter Andrée and things then become very mysterious indeed. How is it the younger Balsamo can recall incidents from Taverney’s younger days as if he had been there himself? What mysterious hold does Balsamo have over the beauteous Andrée that he can command her actions with a wave of his hand? How is it that when the party of Marie Antoinette stops at Taverney Balsamo provides a sumptuous repast replete with gold plate out of thin air?

After this, the story switches to Paris and Versailles with the intrigues and shenanigans of Louis XV’s mistress Madame DuBarry as she connives to have an elderly Baroness agree to present her at court, Balsamo’s wife begging sanctuary at a nunnery (very creepy), the wedding procession of Marie Antoinette, Balsamo’s mentor’s efforts to find the secret to eternal life (the final ingredient needed being the most costly of all) and ending in one heck of a cliff hanger as a fireworks display goes awry and puts Andrée in harm’s way with only one person to save her.

Suffice it to say that Dumas’ tale of the lives and loves of the Court of Louis XV and the growing tension amongst the lower classes of Paris and beyond was quite entertaining, especially with the mysterious appearances and disappearances of Balsamo in and out of the story. I also very much enjoyed the way Dumas used the character of Gilbert and his rationales about his lack of bread and the methods he would use to obtain the bread an excellent way to support the early beginnings of socialism and resentment against the monarchy. Be advised, you won’t find the swashbuckling page turning excitement of the Musketeer series. This is the first of a five volume series and Dumas is setting up much of the background for the later books in this one, so some readers might find this slow paced at times and I only recommend this for Dumas fans (I’m one) or for those looking for well written fictional tales of the times leading up to the French Revolution. Next book in the series, Memoirs of a Physician.