Under the Red Robe by Stanley J. Weyman

Under the Red Robe is a historical fiction/swashbuckler/romance written in late 19th century.

Published in 1894, it was written by Stanley J. Weyman. Weyman was an English novelist who wrote mostly historical romances set in 16th and 17th century France. Weyman was a popular author in his day. Robert Louis Stevenson and Oscar Wilde were said to have been admires of his work. But it doesn’t his works are not very well known today. If it hadn’t been for an article I read some years ago, I don’t think I would have ever heard of him.

Under the Red Robe is the story of a gentleman rogue, M. de Berault. It’s set in France around the time of Cardinal Richelieu, who appears as a character in the book. In fact the book’s last scene is set amidst the turmoil of the Day of Dupes, which turned out to be the most crucial day of the Cardinal’s life and the ultimate test of his power.

The book is full of intrigue, adventure, treachery, spying and of course sword fights. It kind of reminded me of  The Three Musketeers, which I read years ago and have mostly forgotten.

What I really liked about this book was that all the characters seemed very ‘human’. For a historical fiction/ romance that is a big thing. Most of them are so unreal that it just gets nauseating. But in this book even the heroes are shown to have human weaknesses. What makes them wonderful is their ability to rise above such weaknesses and do the right thing.

The female protagonist, Mademoiselle de Cocheforet, is a fine example of a strong independent woman. Her valour matches up with that of the men in the story. Not for once does she come across as a weepy, whiny woman who needs to be saved all the time! Yet it doesn’t reduce her femininity even one bit. The tenderness she shows for her brother and the courage she shows at the final scene are a proof of that.

I mostly feel annoyed with the way romance is portrayed in books but in Under the Red Robe the romance is so undemonstrative and yet passionate that I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of  A Tale of Two Cities, another wonderful historical fiction with an amazing romantic story to tell.

I admired Stanley J. Weyman’s writing immensely. The plot is strong and the narrative is lucid and crisp.

Under the Red Robe  proves that even with a light, entertaining plot and without any heavy duty high brow views, a good book is a good book. It is well edited with no unnecessary vulgarity and with equally strong male and female characters. I’d read this book over some cheap, over written, over publicized modern one any day.

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