Season of Light begins in 1788, in the heady days just before the French revolution, when Paris is fizzing with new ideas about liberty and equality – not just between the rich and the poor, high and low born, but even for women, even slaves.
The novel was powered by a snippet in a biography of Jane Austen: that the husband of a favourite cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, was guillotined in Paris during the Reign of Terror. I wondered why Austen never alludes to the Revolution in her novels, or indeed to that other elephant in the eighteenth century drawing room, slavery.
This fuelled in me a desire to find out more about Eliza, of course, but also about all the other women caught up, or indeed instrumental in the Revolution. They are a formidable crowd, and rather more complex than the fearsome Madame Defarge, as depicted by Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities, who knits while the heads tumble. Behind Season of Light are a whole host of historical women – from the salonniere Madame de Genlis to the formidably focussed anti-revolutionary Charlotte Corday, who famously murdered Marat in his bath.
Asa Ardleigh, my heroine, is a Jane Austen-esque heroine, the youngest of three sisters, who by a quirk of history is plunged headlong into revolution. For a brief period during the Revolution, women like Pauline Leon found their voice in writing petitions, organising marches and forming societies. Needless to say they were soon declared mad or bad and Pauline Leon returned to her place at the hearth. Not so my heroine, I’m pleased to say, who seems destined for a rather more adventurous future.
‘A lush, opulent tale of romance and revolution.’ MARIE CLAIRE
‘McMahon takes no prisoners in this gripping, intelligent historical novel.’ INDEPENDENT
‘From the first page to the last this book will take over your life and have you mentally living in the 18th Century. It is an exciting account of turbulent times and the author brings them vividly to life. It is escapism at its best with its twists and turns so don’t be put off by the unimaginative book cover that groups it into a specific genre rather than for the colourful and exciting story-line it should convey.’
BILL SPENCE – GAZETTE & HERALD
‘The novel is given depth and colour by the appearance of real historical figures, such as Corday and Mme de Genlis and by McMahon’s meticulous research and sense of period…. this densely plotted novel is a spirited and engaging read.’
VANESSA BERRIDGE – DAILY EXPRESS