Saturday, December 10, 2011

Book Review: The Hangman in the Mirror by Kate Cayley

A strong-willed 16-year-old girl fights for survival in 18th-century North America.
Françoise Laurent has never had an easy life. The only surviving child of a destitute washerwoman and wayward soldier, she must rely only on herself to get by. When her parents die suddenly from the smallpox ravishing New France, Françoise sees it as a chance to escape the life she thought she was trapped in.
Seizing her newfound opportunity, Françoise takes a job as an aide to the wife of a wealthy fur trader. The poverty-ridden world she knew transforms into a strange new world full of privilege and fine things -- and of never having to beg for food. But Françoise's relationships with the other servants in Madame Pommereau's house are tenuous, and Madame Pommereau isn't an easy woman to work for. When Françoise is caught stealing a pair of her mistress's beautiful gloves, she faces a future even worse than she could have imagined: thrown in jail, she is sentenced to death by hanging. Once again, Françoise is left to her own devices to survive . . . Is she cunning enough to convince the prisoner in the cell beside her to become the hangman and marry her, which, by law, is the only thing that could save her life?
Based on an actual story and filled with illuminating historical detail, The Hangman in the Mirror transports readers to the harsh landscape of a new land that is filled with even harsher class divisions and injustices.

I love historical fiction, and I love books based on true stories, but I had trouble finding anything to love about this novel.  First off, the majority of the story is told in the synopsis, so there were no surprises while reading.  I knew what was going to happen at each juncture of  Françoise's life.  Just because it was based on a true story doesn't mean the readers know about the events, so a little mystery should have been left.  

An even bigger problem I had was that Françoise was not a very likeable character.  Just because she was raised by irresponsible parents doesn't make her immediately loveable.  She was stiff and proud, couldn't get along with the other servants because she felt she was too good for them.  Then she came off as cold and scheming in jail as she tried to make the other prisoner become the hangman and marry her to save her life.  The author, Kate Cayley, gave me nothing in Françoise to warm to, I felt no sympathy for her.  I actually had more feelings for the other prisoner.

The actual writing was good.  Cayley gave excellent descriptions of life in the 18th century which made it easy to picture the scenes.  I had never heard of any law where marrying the hangman could save someone's life, so learning about that gave interest to the story.

Die hard historical fiction fans may enjoy this novel.  

I received this book from the publisher through Netgalley, I was not required to write a positive review.

I give this book 2 Bookworms. 

Paperback:  232 pages
Publisher:  Annick Press (July 7, 2011)
ISBN-10:  1554513561

ISBN-13:  978-1554513567

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