Reviewed by Emma Crowley
1792. As a teacher at her parents' Academy for Young Ladies in the heart of London, Madeleine Moreau has lived her life sheltered from the outside world. But on the night of a dazzling Masquerade, tragedy strikes and she is left alone in the world. Desperate to find the family she never knew, Madeleine impulsively travels to France in search of them. But with war around the corner, and fearing for Madeleine's safety, the enigmatic Comte Etienne d'Aubery offers her protection at his home, Chateau Mirabelle.
Chateau Mirabelle enchants Madeleine with its startling beauty, but it is a place of dark and haunting secrets. As the Revolution gathers momentum and the passions of the populace are enflamed, Madeleine must take control of her own destiny and unravel events of the past in order to secure a chance of future happiness.
The Chateau on the Lake is the fourth book from Charlotte Betts. Charlotte is fast becoming one of my favourite historical fiction authors alongside Lesley Pearse, Kate Furnivall and Lucinda Reilly. This book is quite lengthy at well over 400 pages but this gave the author great scope to deal with her subject. Too often historical fiction books can gloss over the facts and concentrate more on their imagined storyline. In this case the story of Madeleine Moreau and her friend Sophie as they journey into revolutionary France was written in a superb, spell-bounding way that I was sad to leave these characters behind. In fact I would hope Madeline may feature in some future books even if an entire story could not be dedicated to her a follow up novella would be lovely. It is refreshing to see Charlotte select a different period in history to write about. It is a total change from her previous novels and it keeps the reader and also the author on their toes eager to discover new and enriching details about such a significant period in history. Here the bloody, torturous days of the French Revolution are captured perfectly. It is obvious a lot of in-depth research has gone into this book as all the minute details are covered but slot seamlessly alongside the main storyline.
What an opening line 'It is often said that an educated woman is an abomination in the eyes of God'. This made me stop and think what kind of female protagonist have we in store for us? I am pleased to say we have a gutsy, strong, courageous woman in Madeleine Moreau. A woman well ahead of her time thanks to the education provided by her father. Madeleine's life is thrown into disarray when her father is killed over an incident Madeleine herself had become part of. Soon after, her heartbroken mother also dies. She is left all alone in the world and the new owners of the school until recently run by her father are not the most hospitable. Being a teacher has its advantages she has learned a lot and can put her talents to good use and the skills she has acquired will become invaluable in the future.
Madeleine's father had had his secrets and a ring Madeleine wears could provide the clues she needs to take the next step in her life. She decides to travel to France to uncover the past that has been hidden for many years. Circumstances force her best friend Sophie to accompany Madeleine leaving her young son behind but Sophie has gotten herself into trouble which if she remains behind could see disastrous consequences. How brave were the two women to leave London at such a time of change and unrest in the political world? Travelling into the unknown was extremely dangerous and if they had been thought to be aristocrats upon on arrival in France surely they would have been killed? Etienne D'Aubrey himself owning a vast estate in the French countryside is their saviour and at first I thought he was going to be an inconsequential character but he proved his worth time and time again.
When France declares war on England it is impossible for the women to travel home and so they must face head on the tensions, dangers and suspicion at every corner. Thankfully Etienne is an honourable man and offers his home to the two women – Château Mirabelle. The descriptions of the château and its lake side setting where rich, deep, colourful and evocative and in total contrast to the death and destruction ongoing in the major French cities. This is one thing I liked about this book - the differences between countrywide events and what was going on at the chateau. The chateau at first provided peace and relaxation for Madeleine and Sophie and the book needed these down times. If it had been filled of war and gory descriptions I would have been put off reading. It allowed for Madeleine and Etienne to learn more about each other even though his wife had disappeared in mysterious circumstances years ago so he was not free to marry. We see Madeleine's feelings develop as she does her best to help Sophie through her predicament but at the same time wanting to forge a new life and new relationship. Madeleine was a woman who challenged herself – setting up a school for the children of the estate workers and doing her best to integrate into French life. She wanted to do the right thing she knew Etienne was not in a position for a romance so she becomes friendly with estate manager Jean Luc Viard. I never felt this was real and he was sneaky and snarmy and always acted as if he had ulterior motives. I'll go as far to say I hated him and was always suspicious of him and knew he was not the man for Madeleine.
The book never really slowed down in pace from the time the two women left London and I loved that but towards the end things took on a whole new level and all the action was like something from a film. A race against time to solve problems and obstacles that all added brilliantly to the tension and overall storyline. There was plenty that I did not see coming and at times I found myself shouting out urging the characters on right until the very last word. I'm glad the entire storyline didn't feature Madeleine’s search for her lost relatives because that has all been done before. In this case it was dealt with well and they came to prominence at the right time. The later half of the book really allowed Etienne to come to the fore. At first he seemed aloof and distant and presented himself as cold and arrogant but it was really a front as I suppose he did not want to get hurt again after experiencing so much pain in the past. By the end I really wanted a man like Etienne in my life.Charlotte has created one gorgeous, winning and handsome lead man that often historical fiction novels can lack.
We've all learned about the French Revolution in history lessons but Charlotte Betts' writing is a triumph that brings this momentous time to life in a vivid realistic way. If an author can make you feel through reading their work that you are right there in a place where you have never been before then they have done their job well. Charlotte Betts has achieved all this and more, this is a truly epic story that balances the gore of the revolution with a thrilling storyline without ever loosing pace or drive. The added dash of romance helps too and Etienne is a man who will make every woman swoon. Highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction and for those who want to dip their toe into something new. Keep them coming Charlotte Betts I am hungry for more of your fantastic work.
I'd like to thank Emma for her fantastic review of this eBook which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.