The horrible winter in 1789 France isn't just politically worrisome for Yann, a Gypsy boy whose special gifts make him an invaluable part of a performing troupe; first, his master is murdered by the machiavellian Count Kalliovski, and then his performing compatriot and foster father is also shot, forcing Yann to flee to England. There he's raised into young gentlemanhood, and he realizes that he yearns for Sido, the daughter of the French marquis who hired Yann's troupe for its fatal last performance. Coincidentally, when the turmoil of revolution makes Sido's worried English relatives wish for her to leave her unstable father (who is preparing to sell her hand in marriage to the count in exchange for forgiveness of his debts) and join them in safety there, it's Yann who's entrusted with the mission. That doesn't really even scratch the surface of a plot crammed with sensational events (aside from mass guillotinings, there's a stage gun altered to really fire and a wall that crumbles under the pressure of the revolting peasants), colorful characters (the Micawberesque actor who becomes Yann's tutor), and dramatic devices (chanting automata that hide a secret, a garnet-studded necklace that marks a revenge murder). There are also several iterations each of hidden parentage and spurned seducers (well, the same seducer several times over the years), plus the ever-popular glamorous psychic Gypsies, elements that could make this a splendidly overegged pudding of historical romance. The assemblage ultimately lacks flair, though, with pacing that lags and sags and components jealously interrupting one another and interfering with any sustained involvement with any one development; these flaws make it difficult to keep disbelief as loftily suspended as the plot requires. Skeptics, rigorous historians, and the impatient therefore need not apply, but those who enjoy the opera in the soap and the drama in the melo- may find this an enjoyable costume adventure.
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Gardner, Sally; The Red Necklace: A Story of the French Revolution. Dial, 2008; 378p ISBN 978-0-8037-3100-4 $16.99 Ad Gr. 6-9
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