Vive la France! The Red Necklace takes you back to that exciting time where you could easily (but painlessly, thanks to M. Guillotin) lose your head. Sally Gardner's second novel for young people is similar to her first -- I, Coriander -- in that the story is placed in a historical reality, but flights of fantasy take it into another realm altogether. In I, Coriander -- which I enjoyed both in print and audio -- 17th century London and its conflicts between Puritanism and "witchcraft" are enhanced by a life or death journey into fairyland. In The Red Necklace, two French performers of Romany origins use magic to animate a wooden Pierrot and save the life of a young heiress during the Reign of Terror.
Yann Margoza has known no other parent than the clever dwarf Tetu, and known no other life than performing with the great magician Topolain. Yann can read minds and throw his voice, Tetu can move objects with his mind, and Topolain can stop a bullet with his hand. Their latest act is along the lines of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy -- except that Topolain doesn't manipulate the automaton, the unseen Tetu does. The three performers are ordered to the country chateau of the Marquis de Villeduval by the mysterious and powerful Count Kalliovski. Kalliovsky wants very much to learn how Topolain works the wooden Pierrot. Unfortunatley, Topolain makes the fatal error of recognizing the Count, and -- for the first (and last, of course) time -- the bullet trick fails. Yann and Tetu make a perilous escape, but not before taking refuge in the room of the Marquis' daughter, Sido. It is Sido's courage in delaying the Count that enables the two gypsies to escape.
Sido's father -- a weak man, who lives for his collection of elegant shoe buckles and ignores the buildup of resentment that is fomenting the Revolution -- seems to have no love for her, and quickly succumbs to the Count's desire to wed her. The Marquis is in deep debt to the Count, and this appears to be the only way he can repay what he owes. But, before the Count can take his young bride, Sido and her father are caught in the round-up of aristocrats and imprisoned in Paris. The Count -- who has changed sides and is considered to be a "citizen" -- may not be able to save them.
Tetu ensures that Yann makes a complete escape to London, where the boy is educated, and learns from England's gypsies how to manipulate the "threads of light" as Tetu has. He realizes that he must return to France to rescue Sido. And, so The Red Necklace hurries to its exciting conclusion. (A conclusion that seemed a bit abrupt, so I was glad to learn at the author's website that a sequel is in the works.)
At this late date in my audiobook reviewing you would think that I would have the language to describe what I don't like about Carrington MacDuffie as a narrator. In her work here, she is very skilled at creating consistent characters, she seems at ease with multiple accents, she knows how to pace the story well -- adding excitement and speed to her reading as the story grows more suspenseful. It is her narrator voice that seems so wrong. It's like she's speaking from the back of her throat in a sexy, growly way ... only she shouldn't be sexy and growly when she reads this book (it's all about innocent love). At the same time, she's seems to be really trying hard not to be growly, so instead she sounds like she's got marbles in her mouth (without it being difficult to understand her).
This is deeply unhelpful, I know. Perhaps (if I continue my blog during my Odyssey tenure), I'll figure out how to embed audio ... hmmmm.