Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A cross between Cosette and Lolita - review of Rachel Demeter's "The Frost of Springtime"

Greetings, commies!
I am more than a little depressed at the moment, because I've run out of books by this author to read. I was introduced to Rachel Demeter's work through a historical novel blog, and so far I have read all three of her novels. The Frost of Springtime is her first novel, and it doesn't have that green freshman :ugly duckling" feel at all. It's an incredibly eloquent, multidimensional and historically accurate debut.

On a cold Parisian night, Vicomte Aleksender de Lefèvre forges an everlasting bond with a broken girl during her darkest hour, saving her from a life of abuse and misery. Tormented by his own demons, he finds his first bit of solace in sheltering little Sofia Rose.

But when Aleksender is drawn away by the Franco-Prussian war, the seasons pass. And in that long year, Sofia matures into a stunning young womana dancer with an understanding of devotion and redemption far surpassing her age.

Alongside his closest friend, Aleksender returns home to find that "home" is gone, replaced by revolution, bloodshed, betrayaland a love always out of reach. Scarred both inside and out, he's thrust into a world of sensuality and violencea world in which all his hours have now grown dark, and where only Sofia might bring an end to the winter in his heart.

My thoughts: 
 So many authors who write romance spend a great deal of time and effort on crafting love scenes, but Rachel Demeter spends more time preparing the historical and esthetic ambiance. I cannot speak for all readers, but what happens inside the bedroom is predictable. It's what happens outside the bedroom that interests me. I am delighted that she chose to use the Franco-Prussian war as the backdrop for the novel. It's not a war that gets a lot of coverage from modern historical novelists. One classic who covered it extensively is Guy de Maupassant. Late 19th century was such a fascinating time for European culture. More and more women were entering the performing arts while retaining their "respectable" status. It became acceptable for women who were deemed virtuous and suitable for marriage to cultivate and exhibit their talents outside the social salons. The female protagonist Sofia Rose is a case in point. While many of her colleagues are still deemed morally marginal, she is regarded as chase and virtuous because she spends her nights at a religious convent. But don't be fooled by those sapphire eyes and ivory complexion. Sofia Rose is not a one-dimensional angel. Her Catholic convictions are tested when she develops an aching infatuation with her much older - and conveniently married - patron Alek Lefevre, who had once saved her from being stuck into a brothel by her mother. I give Alek a lot of credit for not trying to lock his ward away from the civilization, as another possessive father-turn-lover figure might. He encourages her to cultivate her dancing talent, but at the same time he is prone to fits of jealousy when young men show interest in her. The character of Sofia, like expensive perfume, has many ingredients and notes. You will recognize elements of Cosette from "Les Mis", Lolita and even Christine from "Phantom". I applaud the author for not shying away from the morally sensitive issue of a powerful man falling in love with his much younger ward. Sofia is not portrayed as a victim of exploitation. On the contrary, she is more of a perpetrator than her seen-it-all Alek. If you can appreciate a novel that challenges your notions of conventional morality, "The Frost of Springtime" is the novel for you.

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