Wednesday, July 7, 2010

For the King by Catherine Delors - A Conversation

For the King by Catherine Delors is one of the books we were eagerly awaiting in 2010 after all the buzz surrounding the author's first release, Mistress of The Revolution, one of Ana's favourite reads of 2008. Alex, Ana and Marg were happy to have received review copies and couldn't help but start discussing it soon after.

What do you think this book was in terms of genre?

Marg: Whilst it is historical fiction, it wasn't really a mystery for me. I have been trying to think of a way to describe it, and the only thing that I would come up with was a fly in a spider's web. The reader knows who the perpetrators were, but it was only as you read further you got to find out about their motivations, and more intriguingly how all the characters were connected together. There were times that you wondered exactly who was the spider and who was the fly though.

Ana: Yes, I think it's only part mystery with Roch Miquel's investigation of the attack that opens the story but it is definitely much more than that. To me it was a window to the history of that period. The political, social, economical aspects of the society that came out of the French Revolution are all represented in this story.

Alex: For The King is a story about a police investigation, but not quite a mystery, at least not for me. At the same time we learn more about the political games of the Post-Revolutionary Paris and the early years of Napoleon Bonaparte as the First Consul.

The main character in the novel is Roch Miquel, and therefore is pretty key to the reader's enjoyment. What did you think of Roch?

Ana: I didn't immediately warm up to him. I found him a bit cold at first. Too devoted to his work, to the point of serving an "evil" master, and without compassion for others. This changes as the story develops though. As I got to know him better I understood his coldness more as a defense and as his position becomes more vulnerable and makes him question himself he definitely shows a softer side with his little informant and Alexandrine.

Alex: Like Ana I had some troubles with Roch Miquel, especially in the first part of the story. He really rubbed me in the wrong way with his self righteousness. His opinions about his father's friend, Vidalec and his daughter, Alexandrine, are incredible harsh and unfair. He always seems worried about his work and his appearance (and Blanche!), but seems incapable of seeing around him the people who really care for him. Halfway through the book he slowly changes and becomes more likeable. His transformation is believable, there's no sudden change of heart, something that I really appreciated.

Marg: I think part of the strength of the characterisation of this novel is that just when you think you have know the character, you learn a little bit more about them and realise that you actually don't really know them as well as you thought.

How about Blanche?

Ana: I also had some problems warming up to Blanche. While in the end I could understand what drove her to act as she did I find myself liking Alexandrine a lot better as the female character in this story. Blanche ends up sacrificing almost everything for the cause and I actually feel that I should have liked her better than I did, she did what she had to do to get the job done and not only that didn't work but the men around her see her as less than worthy because of it.

Alex: Blanche was probably the character in this book that really left me unmoved. Since the beginning I found her annoying in her apparent perfection but you feel also that she is too good to be true. Nonetheless her dedication to the cause is something that sometimes I couldn't help but admire. I do agree with Ana about Alexandrine. She is the quiet girl, honest and strong, who is always willing to help those she loves. I really enjoyed every scene she was in (I keep wishing for more!), especially the one where Roch accompanies her to her home after a day of work at The Mighty Barrel. That was lovely!

Marg: The more we learnt about Blanche the less I liked her. I got her motivation, but the choices that were made were often quite abhorrent to me. It is hard to believe that the reader, and more importantly Roch couldn't see through her outer appearance. I guess this is one of those cases where the saying love is blind might be applicable.

Alex is lucky enough to live in Paris, (yes, I am jealous (Marg)) so we specifically wanted to ask her about the characterisation of Paris in this book.

Alex: Paris is definitely one of the main characters of For The King! While I was reading it, I often imagine myself with the book in my hands walking the streets and places mentioned in the story. The descriptions and details are so rich and gripping! I see some of these places every day, others don't exist any more (like the Rue Saint Nicaise) but I heard about them before and I could easily picture Roch running around in search of those sneaky assassins. Many books are written with Paris in the background often mentioning some of the most known places in town without going further, which can sometimes be a little frustrating. For The King seems to be born out of Catherine Delors' love for Paris and its history. This is, at my eyes, one of the strong points of this book. The Post-Revolutionary Paris was brought back to life and I enjoyed every moment.

Did you have an inkling that the title of the book was more than just a title? Did that made you think differently about the story?

Ana: I was quite surprised when I realised that it was the code name of a character. One of the things that this book taught me was that there was an active movement plotting to put the Bourbons on the throne again so I guess the title gave me pause, it made me think that the center of everything was that movement and how wide their connections were.

Alex: I was also surprised by the fact that the title was also a code name, especially when I found out it belonged to someone I really didn't expect. Later in the historical note, Catherine Delors gives us more information about this "For the King" and to whom that alias belonged originally, which I found really interesting. I was familiar with the Chouans and the Chouannerie but I never went much further than their ideals and some other small details, so this was a perfect opportunity to learn more about it.

Marg: There were lots of examples in this book of where there was a new fact revealed and then suddenly a whole lot of things either suddenly come to have more meaning or at the every least start to make sense. The title was a key example of this happening.

The obvious villains were the royalists who organised the bombing but for me (Ana) the most sinister character ended up being Fouché, Napoleon's Minister of Police, for whom Miquel worked. Who did you think were the bad guys in the story?

Alex: For me, the big, bad guy was Fouché. He is the politician nobody can trust and who would plot against his own mother if that would make him gain even more power. His background is rather revealing. He readily embraces the new ideals of the Revolution, later he turns a blind eye to Napoleon's coup d'état remaining his Minister whom he will help years later to his downfall. Of course, he manages to stay, for some time, minister of Louis XVIII and will finally be accused of regicide. A man who traitorously switches allegiance as he see fit to fulfill his own ambitions without any scruples is certainly a ruthless villain!

Marg: I don't think I have ever read a book that is set during this time where Fouche is portrayed as anything other than manipulative, duplicitous and just plain evil. Then again his rival Dubois wasn't all that much better. For the most part most of the characters were all different shades of grey. there weren't too many two dimensional, or black and white, characters in the novel.


For the King is released on 8 July! Over the next couple of weeks we will have full reviews and a guest post from Catherine Delors, so keep visiting to find out more about this book!


  1. What a group of thoughtful, attentive, perceptive readers you are! Let me thrown in my two cents:
    1. Mystery: True, For the King is not a mystery. I even reveal the identities of the assassins in my first chapter. I wrote the novel as a thriller, quite a different genre where the reader is way ahead of the detective.
    2. Roch: Indeed he starts off as smug, self-congratulatory and dismissive of others, and very naive. He grows, though.
    3. Blanche: Complex lady... I am not sure I like her very much myself. And yet sometimes I caught myself thinking "poor kid." And yes, Marg, love is blind. :)
    4. Paris: I am in love with the city, and very happy it shows in the novel!
    5. Fouche: for me too he is the arch-villain of the story. See this post:
    Thanks to all of you for this great discussion!

  2. Great post, thanks! I love your roundtable-style conversations on books--it's great to see so many perspectives at work. Thanks!

  3. Great post on a wonderful novel! I really like your group discussion format, too.

  4. I have to agree with so many of the things you guys said. I much preferred Alexandrine and wished there was more of her and I enjoyed the evolution of Roch.

    Great discussion!

  5. Catherine, thank for sharing that with us! And you're welcome! :-)

  6. I loved this book and really enjoyed your insights and thoughts, most of which I share.