In the Reign of Terror: The Adventures of a Westminster Boy by G.A. Henty
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The bloody guillotine...The slaughter of fatted nobles...The bloodlust massacre of innocents. G.A. Henty gives us the sour taste of these images from the French Revolution in his adventure story, In the Reign of Terror.
The tale follows Harry Sandwith, an English youth on the cusp of adulthood, as he tries to find a place in life for himself in France in the late 18th century. While there, the rumors of populous unrest explodes into the most unimaginable of horrors. Henty places his hero in the very center of history, even rubbing elbows with Revolutionary icons such as Robespierre. Where the politics of the times are concerned, the novel takes a decidedly antagonistic view of the Revolution. The plight of the people is not ignored, however, the acts of violence against the noble class are to be abhorred, if the novel's tone is the measuring stick to go by.
Adventure novels rely upon action to draw in the readers. Here the action comes in spurts and leaves much to be desired. Modern readers, accustomed to the pulse-racing nonstop action of today's highly-polished books and movies, may be frustrated by Henty's style. Too many static scenes drag on, too many words are wasted in describing plans instead of just enacting them, and too many insignificant actions are pondered upon. Once I even scared myself into thinking I'd accidentally started reading a James Fenimore Cooper!
The dialogue has issues too. A good deal of almost absurdly detailed exposition is delivered via dialogue, stilting it unnaturally. Emotional and psychological character transformations come at the flip of a switch: I see you are right and I am wrong. I will adjust my values. There, I have adjusted my values.
But before I finish, I don't want you to walk away from this review thinking poorly of this book. No, I actually enjoyed it for the most part, and if you can forgive the writing style, this less than perfect novel can be a fun read.