I'm working through the Texas Lone Star Reading list (you might recall that my 8th grade students are competing against one another to read all of the 19 books on the list by May, and I'm sorely behind!) and completed The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner. What I'm enjoying most about this list is the fact that I'm reading books I would have never picked up on my own accord, and I'm quite certain that The Red Necklace is one of the books that falls into that category. The Red Necklace is set during the French Revolution (1789-1792) and told from the perspective of a Yann Margoza, a boy whose spent his entire life entertaining the rich. Yann and his guardian Tetu use their combined talents of moving objects with their minds, reading minds, and voice projection to bring to life a wooden puppet, and their act is a huge success; selling out seats nearly every night in their tiny Parisian theater.
The amazing feat of bringing a puppet to life draws many admirers, and the most dangerous of Yann and Tetu's fans is the evil Count Kalliovski. Harnessing the powers of Yann and Tetu would bring Kalliovski much power, and he lures the entertainers to the chateau of Marquis de Villeduval, who hires the pair to put on their show for the Marquis's rich friends. Tetu and Yann suspect evil and danger far too late, and narrowly escape the Count with the help of the Marquis's neglected and ignored daughter, Sido. Yann and Tetu know that they have only a matter of time before the Count hunts them down, and Tetu devises a plan for Yann's escape to London without him. The story unfolds as we learn more evil and dark secrets behind Kalliovski and his control of Paris's elite, the significance of the red necklace that is found on the neck of murder victims who have borrowed money from the Count, and his master plan to harness magic and create the world's first human like automata. Whew! Lots of scheming and unravelling to do in the last 200 or so pages!
The story is complex and difficult to summarize, but I did enjoy it, even though I know only the basics behind the French Revolution. Gardner has a vivid imagination, but her usage of third person perspective limited reader's from learning too much about one character at a given time. There is also so much build and explanation to get through in the first 100 pages, which will turn many teen readers off, but those who stick around are in for a whirlwind of action in the last 3/4ths of the book. Sometimes the action is TOO FAST and can cause readers to lose track of who-is-who, and what-is-what in the novel.
I'm sure that the historical aspect of this book is what garnered so much literary recognition, because historical fiction is very hard to pull-off and for authors to not ramble on about historical facts. Gardner made you feel like you were apart of the time period and aware of the important events, without going off on a tangent about the historical implications or giving too many frivolous details about the Revolution. Yet, like I said before, the first part of the book was a little slow and full of explanation, but then hit warp speed toward the middle and end. I felt like parts of the plot were rushed or needed to be further explored (Yann's mother's connection to the Count) and more development in character relationships (between Sido and Yann and perhaps even Tetu and Yann's mother). Yes, we know that Yann and Sido felt a connection from the time they first met as young teenagers, but one dinner and a cafe doesn't rekindle automatic love, in my opinion! I'm hoping Sally Gardner's sequel, The Silver Blade further explores the connection between Sido and Yann and divulges how Yann plans to use his powers to help the people of Paris.