Life since the war has been tough, but Zéphyrine finds inspiration in the hope offered by the city’s radical new leadership. And she has fallen in love.
Dashing young violinist opens Zéphyrine’s eyes to another new world. He in turn is swept away by her passionate beliefs.
But not all their friends are convinced. With the enemy at the gate and the barricades rising, can love and friendship both survive?
Lydia Syson’s Liberty’s Fire is set in a turbulent era of French history following after a war that is often overlooked between the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War—even if it was perhaps the last major war in the West that was fought without modern, by which I mean motorised, artillery. The French-Prussian war is often just a footnote or just a string of dates to learn in history class and Liberty’s Fire taught me more about how the aftermath of this war rocked the French Republic than six years of history classes in grammar school ever did. I’d never realised that there were more revolutionary periods than just the French Revolution in France for one or that Paris for a time was such a socialist commune as it was in the book.
We roam the streets of Paris during this troubled time through the eyes of its lower and creative classes. Anatole, Jules, and Marie all work as artists: Anatole is a violinist, Marie a singer, and Jules a photographer. Zéphyrine is a working girl, whose livelihood has been decimated by the war and its consequent economic decline. When we first meet Zéphyrine, she’s on the verge of destitution and contemplating becoming a prostitute to at least be able to survive. In a way, the revolution and the Commune of Paris save her life, because they provide her with a way to earn a living, without resorting to selling herself. I loved Zéphyrine’s indefatigable spirit, her refusal to just give up and give in. Her romance with Anatole, which forms the heart of the narrative, was lovely and very sweet. Anatole is a wonderful leading man and I liked the way he offsets Zéphyrine’s unbridled enthusiasm for the revolution with some solid doubts about the motivation for it among its leaders.
While I loved Zéphyrine and Anatole, I found the relationship between Anatole and Jules far more intriguing. There is so much subtext to them, so much that goes unsaid between them. It also served to make Anatole a little less perfect as his treatment of Jules wasn’t very nice. Anatole knows that Jules wants to be more than his friend, yet while he doesn’t feel the same, he does trade on Jules’ feelings for him to get Jules to help him. It’s very much a tale of unrequited love between best friends and I felt so much for Jules, who knows there is no chance, yet always carries a bit of hope. He has to witness Anatole losing his heart to Zéphyrine and manages to not resent her for the fact. Marie also has feelings for Anatole, yet her main focus is on finding her brother and brining him home to Paris safely.
It is through Marie’s story arc that we learn most about the police state nature of the Commune. She has to deal with lecherous Citizens in power at the Prefecture and we are introduced to the importance of informers in such a state when they try to blackmail her into becoming one in exchange for a chance to rescue her brother. The way the political situation in Paris is presented offers a lot of food for thought about the nature of government, about who is in power and the nature of class distinctions. Additionally, it also touches on women’s emancipation, which even then was a matter of discussion, even if true women’s suffrage in France would remain out of reach until after the Second World War. I found this aspect of the book fascinating and really enjoyed it.
Liberty’s Fire is a fascinating YA historical, which is about friendships and love, but also about deciding what it is worth to fight for and when to take a stand. I had a fantastic time with Lydia Syson’s latest and while it was written for a young adult audience, I think there is plenty here to appeal to adult readers as well.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.