Liberty's Fire

By Lydia Syson

Liberty's Fire is the story of the Paris Commune which I knew nothing about and I was fascinated to learn about it. I enjoyed this book for several reasons. I loved the two main characters Zephyrine and Anatole and seeing their relationship develop. I also loved  Jules as he was a really interesting character. I also loved finding out more about the Paris Commune. It is such an interesting part of history and I am so pleased I found out more about it. I really enjoyed this really interesting book.

2.Millie:  I found this book really interesting. It isn't a part of history I knew anything about until I read it and I really liked learning about something new. I really liked all the characters but especially Jules because he was really interesting. It have left me wanting to learn more about the history of the French revolution and definitely made me want to read the rest of Lydia's books

3. Abi: This book was far from boring, though I found that with the first couple of chapters I really had to sit down and read them. This was one of the first books I have read about one of the French revolutions so I found all of the history fascinating. Liberty’s Fire is a wonderful book which takes place in the streets of Paris during the French Commune in 1971. This book is beautifully written about two young people who both believe  in a free country and fall in love with each other while a siege from within is starting. Many events take place on the streets of Paris so the streets had to be painted vividly which they were. The main character was Zephyrine who was a touch and self-sufficient character, by far the most interesting chapter of the book. Anatole was an acceptable character though whenever the book came to his view, I was less engaged than I was with Zephyrine. This book really showed what happens to the normal people when there is a war of some kind, a very important subject. The ending was a little annoying as I could have done with a couple more pages as I loved the book so much. I will definitely read another book by this author as the book was very stimulating.

4. Asha: I really enjoyed reading this book because I could not put it down. The plot of the book was convincingly written and you could tell that the author had researched the period quite well. There were little details that added to the story and if she had not researched the era they would not have been there. The book made me want to research more about that time in history and why the French revolution happened. Both of the main characters, Anatole and Zephyrine, were well written because I felt emotion for them. I really liked how it was set in Paris and I began to know the streets. Two things that I disliked about the book were I did not understand why the book was called Liberty’s Fire and that it ended on a cliff-hanger. I would definitely read another book by this author.

5. Caitlin: I really enjoyed reading this book and finding out what was going to happen next. ‘Liberty’s Fire’ also included lots of cliff hangers which always make the reader read on. I liked the factual part of this book because it has now made me want to learn more about the French Revolution. From reading this book, I would also like to find out more about how people coped and lived with an uprising happening around them and how it affected their everyday lives. Furthermore, I also liked the story in general because it gave you an idea of how the revolution affected people lives and vaguely what was going on. From reading this book I haven’t really learnt too much about the period that would help me in a history lesson, probably just a few dates here and there.

As I mentioned before I hadn’t heard about the author, Lydia Syson, before reading ‘Liberty’s Fire’, but now after reading this book I would like to read another book written by this author because I think she has done a really good job with ‘Liberty’s Fire’.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading historical love stories or anyone who is interested in the French Revolution. I truly enjoyed reading this book and I’m sure many more people will.

6. Islay: Liberty’s Fire is a detailed and in some parts poignant book detailing the events of the Bloody Week and 1871 Paris Revolution through the eyes of four friends who each watch the events unfurl while having different political leanings and dramatic circumstances. The book is slow paced until the final chapters, at which point it echoes the chaos of the street fighting during the Bloody Week of May 1871.

The love story is between Zéphyrine – a poor girl from the Montmartre region of Paris that is heavily influenced by the radical and feminist movements growing in the wake of the Paris Commune’s takeover of the city and National Guard, and Anatole – a violinist who idolises the Paris Commune and is ready to defend his city and his love from a position in the National Guard. They are joined by Jules- an American photographer who is of a higher class and is suspicious of the Commune and Zéphyrine’s radicalisation, and Marie who is an opera singing with sympathies for the Versailles army that bombard the city due to her brother being amongst their ranks.

Zéphyrine's character is not instantly likeable. The author has tried to introduce the audience to her character at a moment of desperation which creates an immediate sense of empathy and so bonds the character and the reader. This was successful, however following this initially poignant introduction Zéphyrine does not have many endearing characteristics. She is weak and unable to even remotely defend herself, but also ungrateful and unable to accept help. She is also clueless to most things and irritating when asking questions, such as to Jules about the camera equipment. This is in part due to personal preference as to why I don’t like her as a character, but also because she is written with little humanity due to her formal speech and complete lack of knowledge of what was going on politically at the time. She is also quite a callous character as shown through her ignoring of Rose for a large part of the book. I would have liked the book more if her character had been more agreeable, as Anatole and Jules were interesting characters due to their better writing and general more realistic personalities.

The period of history that act as the backdrop for the character’s stories is a niche one, often overshadowed by the preceding acts of revolution in Paris in the previous 100 years. Therefore one way in which the book is good is that it made me consider this small but brutal revolution in more detail, and having finished the book I would now be interested in reading around the subject of the 1871 Revolution of the Paris Commune and the Bloody Week that followed.

However the reason for wanting to read around the subject is not just because the book highlighted the period of history to me, but also because unfortunately it did not explain the historical event with any form of clarity. While the small historical background paragraphs at the beginning of the chapters in which the dates changed or significant events occurred were useful at first to set the scene, the repeated use of terminology that without studying the period of the French Revolution would be unfamiliar meant that the historical background was difficult to understand. The Commune was never fully explained as an entity, and so people who have not studied French history would be confused by the events being described. Also, in some cases Syson did not explain a concept in detail at all, such as the scenes in which Anatole and Zéphyrine visit a political club. In the book, it was just called a ‘club’ without any further explanation, and so most readers would not have understood the events that then occurred as they wouldn’t know what the word ‘club’ stood for.

One thing that the book cannot be faulted on however is its historical accuracy. It was not described well and the plot often ended up for want of a better word clunky as a result, but the research undertaken by the author is clear and she covers all of the main events of 1871 from the perspective of those who lived through it.

That being said, I feel that Syson focussed so much on trying to make the events seem realistic that they instead seemed a little too fanatical. The language used in the dialogue is very formal, and so doesn’t seem realistic for the characters that mostly lived in poorer areas of Paris such as Montmartre. Syson was probably using this to make the book seem realistic in a historic setting, but not everyone in the past spoke like a member of the nobility, especially not in France at the time.  Also I felt like the author was cutting corners when it came to character development by using a lot of reported speech and dialogue in Chapter 12 in order to produce back stories for Zéphyrine and Anatole. These backstories were arduous to read and did not end up influencing the plot at all or at least to such a minimal level that whole paragraphs from the chapter could have been omitted.

In general the pace of the plot let the book down somewhat. While of course the pace sped up in order to convey the chaos of the conflicts during Bloody Week, it was interjected by strangely calm scenes that slowed the pace and lost the sense of urgency in the plot. An example of this would be Marie leaving to go to a café while the conflict had left a shocked Zéphyrine in her apartment. While obviously the fighting was not taking part in all of Paris at once, the complete lack of urgency portrayed in that scene made the chaos of the events seem muted and thus lose some of their importance. This is therefore a criticism of the work.

The plot revolves around the relationships between the four main characters, and how their individual struggles and political leanings cause them to interact. Each storyline was interesting though at times undeveloped, and some relationships were hard to distinguish and never fully explained. I found in particular the potential love between Jules and Anatole confusing. While it would have been an interesting addition to the plot, the affections of Jules to Anatole were often just subtle enough to make me question whether I was reading into it too much, but at other times blatantly obvious but then dismissed by a confusing sentence structure or clunky period of dialogue. This confused me immensely, as did the affections of Maria first to Anatole, and then to Jules at the end of the book. Her character was, in my opinion, the least developed which was a shame as the trauma she had to face of choosing between her family and her friends would have been interesting to develop fully.

Also, I feel that the ending was rushed in that despite holding a justifiable nine year grudge against Marie, Anatole forgives her almost instantly when hearing that Zéphyrine might be on a boat coming back from being deported. When faced with the ultimate betrayal from Jules and the fact that he had kept it secret from Anatole for nine years, Anatole forgives him in one sentence and then brushes the matter aside, with no semblance of a grudge. This is a large inconsistency within his own character as it is unlikely someone would hold one grudge against someone but not be even remotely angry in the grand scheme of things with someone who ultimately caused the grudge to have manifested with the first character.

In this way I felt the end of the book was inconclusive as well as rushed, as while the air of hope was being purveyed by Syson as to whether Anatole and Zéphyrine would be reunited, it translated more as a rushed conclusion without many questions being asked and valuable character motivations being disregarded in favour of an ending associated with metaphor and the chance of a new beginning.

I would recommend this book to older teenagers who have studied the subject of the French Revolution extensively, though I would be more inclined to recommend this book to adults as while they may not enjoy the more juvenile plot, I feel only they could fully understand the historical aspect of the book.  Given this, I would not jump to read other books by this author as I did not enjoy the dynamic between the characters and her other books also employ a similar dynamic across different time periods.

However, if you like swift ,love and first sight romance stories and do not mind being at points confused by the plot, this book would provide an interesting read within an era of history not usually taught in Secondary School curriculums.

7. Anon: This is a really enjoyable book about set in the capital of France during a time of great change. Paris is experiencing poverty and division causing major conflict. The historical content of the book really sets the scene, as the conflict during the time period encourages the people to come together. Not only is there conflict in terms of revolution but also conflict of the heart, as the main characters Anatole and Zephyrine are undecided about their feelings for each other.

I would recommend this book as it did not just focus upon history, the story also allowed for the reader to go on a journey which explores the individuals of the history rather than just the events themselves. This is important to me as I enjoy learning about the impact of events upon the people, rather than just the event itself. In my history lessons we do not study about Paris in the nineteenth century so this gave me an opportunity to consider different histories which otherwise I would not know.

The different twists and turns of this book made it gripping and exciting read. I would recommend this book and I would really like to read another book by Lydia Syson. 

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