The Bastille Spy by CS Quinn

Set during the French Revolution and featuring an almost super-human female spy and a handsome, charismatic pirate, this book feels like a cross between The Scarlet Pimpernel, James Bond and Pirates of the Caribbean. As the first in a new series – Revolutionary Spy – I’m not sure whether I really liked it enough to want to continue with the next one, but it was certainly entertaining.

Our heroine Attica Morgan is the illegitimate daughter of a British nobleman and an African slave. Raised and educated in England, Attica wants to make the most of the opportunities she has been given and do everything she can to help relieve the suffering of others, whether they are those who are born or sold into slavery, or those who have become political prisoners. With her impressive range of skills and abilities, as well as her intelligence and fearlessness, Attica has been admitted to the secret society known as the Sealed Knot and as the novel opens in 1789, she is preparing to head to France on a new mission.

Armed with her deadly Mangbetu knife and her quick wits, Attica arrives in a Paris where revolution is brewing. A diamond necklace intended for Marie Antoinette has gone missing, something which could have serious repercussions for the monarchy if the jewels are not found. Attica’s task is to locate the necklace, but more important to her is the safety of her cousin Grace, who was sent to Paris on a mission of her own and has disappeared as thoroughly as the diamonds. Meanwhile, a prisoner has been murdered inside the notorious Bastille, but who was he and who was responsible for his death?

As if all of that wasn’t enough, Attica crosses paths with some of the leading figures of the Revolution, including Maximilien Robespierre who is on the trail of an elusive British spy known only by the codename ‘Mouron’, or ‘Pimpernel’. If she is to evade Robespierre’s clutches and survive long enough to complete her mission, Attica needs someone she can trust, but there’s only the pirate Captain Jemmy Avery – and it’s impossible to tell which side he is on and for whom he is really working.

The story moves along at a whirlwind pace, never slowing down for a second as Attica and her friends rush from one adventure to another, trying to stay one step ahead of their enemies. There’s plenty of historical detail in between, but something about the writing style, the language and the characters made the book feel more ‘modern’ than I would have preferred. Attica herself isn’t very believable as an 18th century woman – but then, she wouldn’t be very believable in any other time period anyway! It seems there is nothing she can’t do, from picking locks and wielding weapons to speaking a multitude of foreign languages and decoding secret messages. This makes her fun to spend time with, but I would have liked to have seen a few more flaws and vulnerabilities to round out her character.

Only part of the story is told from Attica’s point of view. There are also some chapters which focus on Robespierre, as well as some in which we follow the adventures of Attica’s cousin Grace. Next to the larger-than-life Attica, Grace is a quieter, less memorable character, but I enjoyed the occasional change of perspective.

I might be tempted to read the next book in this series, but at the moment I don’t think so. However, I’m determined that 2020 will be the year I read Hilary Mantel’s French Revolution novel, A Place of Greater Safety, which I’ve only been putting off reading because of the length.

Thanks to Corvus for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

14 thoughts on “The Bastille Spy by CS Quinn

  1. piningforthewest says:

    I’ll dodge this one thanks. I really enjoyed A Place of Greater Safety and although it is hefty I found that as it’s so well written I was able to get through it at a decent pace.

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I think I would have the same reservations as you about this. It does seem to me that too many modern books set in historical times project modern characters and behaviours into that setting – which is why I often end up reading books contemporary to the time, or at least close to it! 😀

    • Silvia says:

      That’s what I was thinking as well. I also thought, if you are going to do a heroine such as this Attica, wouldn’t it be best to place her in a dystopian society? That allows you to pick and choose from history, it can be a ‘historic’ dystopia. But I guess that won’t appeal to the same peeps that falls for the so called historical fiction, which these days is not what it used to be, but it’s more a modern view, a modern plot, and a historic setting.

      • Helen says:

        I agree with both of you – it really irritates me when a book is set in the past but full of modern slang and characters with 21st century attitudes. Luckily historical fiction is a huge genre and there are plenty of well written, well researched examples as well (mainly older authors like Dorothy Dunnett, Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary Renault and Patrick O’Brian) so it’s just a case of knowing which ones to avoid. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I have read about Marie Antoinette’s necklace before and thought it was a fascinating case in terms of the implications for the French monarchy, so I’m sure the Antal Szerb book will be interesting.

  3. Judy Krueger says:

    Funny you should mention James Bond. I recently read Diamonds Are Forever. Your heroine certainly sounds like such a type. I am wondering if I should reread the earlier Hilary Mantel books before the third. It has been so long. Do you remember the earlier two books well?

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read any of the James Bond books, but maybe I’ll try them one day. I can’t remember the previous Hilary Mantel books very well either, but I’m not planning to reread them before the third one comes out so I’m hoping it won’t matter too much.

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