16.2.14

DARKNESS IN THE CITY OF LIGHT, by Paul Robertson

Paris, 1870: the Franco-Prussian War is about to begin. Baron Ferdinand Harsanyi, a Hungarian military attache to the Austrian Embassy, is summoned home to Vienna where his wife dies. Harsanyi, aloof and calculating, is now sole owner of cinnabar mines which provides mercury, indispensable in munitions. With war looming, every major European country seeks to buy Harsanyi's cinnabar. But who will he sell to? His son Rudolph and daughter Therese have tenuous connections with their father, who takes them away to Paris. All are swept into the machinations of subtle and not-so-subtle opponents, including Napoleon III's Empress Pauline, handsome and flamboyantly French Captain l'Imperator who pursues Therese, the slimy Sarroche, and an old family friend, Professor Pock. Zoltan, the Baron's right-hand man and confidant, tries to keep everyone safe. The French are maneuvered into declaring war on Prussia. France's much-vaunted defense lines are impossible to defend, their generals are inept and their armies misused and slaughtered, the supplies arrive only to be destroyed when the Prussians threaten...and Rudolph is catapulted into the middle when Therese begs him to rescue her beloved. But...this is not a spoiler! I haven't mentioned anything of importance, as much of the story happens behind the scenes. The ending is fascinating, almost nobody is what they seem. If you enjoy historical almost-fiction without obvious sex scenes, characters that are subtle and complex, and highlights on little-known historical moments this is a book for you. I give it a 4.5, and you might also (or maybe not; let me know what you think).