Saturday, January 28, 2012
Review: The Hangman in the Mirror by Kate Cayley
Françoise Laurent has never had an easy life. The only surviving child of a destitute washerwoman and wayward soldier, she must rely only on herself to get by. When her parents die suddenly from the smallpox ravishing New France, Françoise sees it as a chance to escape the life she thought she was trapped in.
Seizing her newfound opportunity, Françoise takes a job as an aide to the wife of a wealthy fur trader. The poverty-ridden world she knew transforms into a strange new world full of privilege and fine things -- and of never having to beg for food. But Françoise's relationships with the other servants in Madame Pommereau's house are tenuous, and Madame Pommereau isn't an easy woman to work for. When Françoise is caught stealing a pair of her mistress's beautiful gloves, she faces a future even worse than she could have imagined: thrown in jail, she is sentenced to death by hanging. Once again, Françoise is left to her own devices to survive . . . Is she cunning enough to convince the prisoner in the cell beside her to become the hangman and marry her, which, by law, is the only thing that could save her life?
Well, the back cover copy pretty much gives away every single detail of the plot, so I won't rehash it. I'll just tell you what I liked and didn't like about The Hangman in the Mirror.
I loved the setting, the historical detail, and the writing style. Montreal, New France, 1751. My favorite time period to read about, which is why I was so drawn to this book. The author does a fantastic job of bringing Montreal to life: the sights, the sounds, the smells; the hardships the working class faced--it's all very gritty and realistic, as is the author's writing style. And I love that the author came across a reference in her research to a woman who actually did convince a hangman to marry her and free her from her death sentence, and chose to craft a novel around it. Little historical tidbits like that are fascinating and make for great fiction.
So what didn't I like? Well, Francoise, to be perfectly honest. Not at first--at first I liked her a lot. Tough, calculating, and determined to find a way for a better life. But as the story progresses, Francoise develops a one-track mind and makes some really stupid decisions for a smart girl. And her toughness turns into callousness, and then by the end I was starting to think, well, why should somebody save you from the noose? You're heartless, unapologetic, and have a seriously unjustified sense of entitlement. After deciding I really didn't care for Francoise, I thought the ending would end up making or breaking the book, but it actually does neither. The book ended before the story did, in my opinion, and left me feeling a bit cheated and in need of another chapter or two to give the story an overall sense of purpose and completeness.
So even though I did not care for the main character and felt the story was lacking some elements, I would definitely read future offerings from Kate Cayley. If she spends a little more time developing characters and story structure, her way with words and historical details will earn her many fans.
My Rating: 3 Stars out of 5
*Please Note: This review references an advance digital copy received via NetGalley, and the finished copy may differ. Though I received this book for review, these are my unbiased opinions and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.