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5.0 out of 5 starsWhy 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.

 

“I have no longer a horror of others – I fear I may resemble them”

“There are moments when the destiny of a whole nation is being weighed in the scales of Fate. One of them weighs down the other. Everyone already thinks he has attained the proposed end. Suddenly some invisible hand lets fall into the other scale the blade of a poniard or a pistol-ball. Then all changes, and one only cry is heard, Woe to the vanquished!”

Wow. It was paragraphs like that that just knocked my socks off. I always knew Dumas was brilliant, but he really outdoes himself in this book. Taking the Bastile is the fourth in Dumas’ six book series retelling the French Revolution and begins several years after the close of The Queen’s Necklace. The first third of the book retells the events leading up to and including the storming of the Bastile through the POV of Ange Pitou a young orphan from the countryside and his comrade in arms the farmer Billot. Agents of the French government remove papers from Billot’s farm that he is storing for Dr. Gilbert, which sends he and Pitou to Paris to advise the doctor of the theft. They find Gilbert (yes, our young Gilbert from the first two books) imprisoned in the Bastile and are swept up with the rest of the city on that fateful day when all Paris attacks and destroys that symbol of tyranny.

Gilbert is rescued and discovers that the person who ordered his imprisonment is the Countess de Charny, a name he does not recognize and goes to Versailles in search of answers. Presented to Louis XVI as a doctor of renown (being a pupil of Balsamo in the mystic arts), Gilbert discovers that the countess is the beauteous Andrée whom he loved as a young boy. Andrée denies any knowledge of Gilbert or his imprisonment until Gilbert uses his magnetic powers and hypnotizes her (very creepy) to gain the truth — there was an incident in the second book where Andrée had been compromised by Balsamo and Gilbert and she feared exposure and scandal.

As Andrée recovers from Gilbert’s ministrations we see that she is in love with her husband the Count de Charny, who loves the Queen (who returns his love), to Andrée’s great sorrow. The story then switches back and forth between the actions at the court of Louis XVI and the growing violence and restlessness of the Paris mobs as Dumas recounts the events leading up to the Women’s March on Versailles demanding bread and the subsequent mob storming the palace sending the royal family on a mad dash for safety (unputdownable!). The final 100 or so pages of the book detail Ange Pitou’s return to his country village and the logistics of how the villagers were converted from the mindset of being simple farmers working for a living to the rationale of the revolutionary and setting up a local national guard.

That’s about as much of the plot as I’m going to try and detail, the bulk of the book is known history as Dumas recounts the terror of the revolution from all walks of life in late 18C France, the countryman, the farmer, the Church, the Paris citizens and the royal court of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. Some readers may find a slow spot here and there at the beginning and end of the book, but other than that I found it quite unputdownable. Next up in the series, The Countess de Charny.

Side note, there are several newly published versions of these books and some are poorly translated — one of those being The Queen’s Necklace (published by Wildside) which I had purchased prior to realizing this was a series, and I found the quality of the story sorely lacked from that bad translation. Dumas with a mediocre story and boring dialogue? Not on your life. The other three I obtained very old copies published by PF Collier and Sons in the early 1900’s and I strongly urge you to seek those out either via library or used (around $7), and I’ll be sticking with that for the last two books in the series.

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