Read The Brethren by Robert Merle T. Jefferson Kline Online


Consisting of 13 books written across 26 years, the adventure-filled epic "Fortunes of France" is one of France's best-loved historical fiction series. Never before published in English, book one, "The Brethren," makes its debut in the US in 2015.Two veteran soldiers retire to a castle in the wildly beautiful Périgord of sixteenth century France. But the country is descendConsisting of 13 books written across 26 years, the adventure-filled epic "Fortunes of France" is one of France's best-loved historical fiction series. Never before published in English, book one, "The Brethren," makes its debut in the US in 2015.Two veteran soldiers retire to a castle in the wildly beautiful Périgord of sixteenth century France. But the country is descending into chaos, plagued by religious strife, famine, pestilence, bands of robbers... and, of course, the English.In the course of their story we are introduced to a slew of vivid characters, including the fiery Isabelle, mistress of the castle, refusing to renounce her religious beliefs despite great pressure; the petty and meal-mouthed Francois, unlikely heir to the estate; the brave and loyal Jonas who lives in a cave and keeps a wolf as a pet; the swaggering soldier Cabusse; the outrageously superstitious Maligou, and Sarrazine, who once roamed as part of a wild gypsy band.A sprawling, earthy tale of violence and lust, love and death, political intrigue and dazzling philosophical debate, The Brethren is the first step in an engrossing saga to rival Dumas, Flashman, and "Game of Thrones."...

Title : The Brethren
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ISBN : 9781782271239
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 416 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Brethren Reviews

  • Issicratea
    2019-03-25 13:15

    The subject matter of this novel appealed to me: its backdrop is the sixteenth-century wars of religion in France, seen through the lens of a noble household in the Périgord, near Sarlat. This is the first of a thirteen-novel series by the academic and novelist Robert Merle, written across a quarter of a century (1977-2003), tracing the life of one of the sons of the household, Pierre de Siorac. The novels, collectively entitled Fortune de France, are very well known in France, but have only just begun to appear in English. I read the first volume, The Brethren, in the recently issued Pushkin Press translation by T. Jefferson Kline.That may have been a mistake. Reading up on the novel a little after finishing it, I discovered that a striking feature of the original novels is that they are written in an approximation to sixteenth-century French. Presumably this virtuoso feat on Merle’s part contributes to the reputation the novels have acquired in France. T. Jefferson Kline makes no real attempt to reproduce the linguistic texture of the original, other than throwing in the occasional lexical archaism (he is especially fond of “wenches,” and I spotted a stray “’Sblood” at one point). I imagine the experience of reading the original would equate more to something like reading a skillfully archaizing novel like As Meat Loves Salt. If I ever pursue the series, I think I’ll probably try to read the next volume in French.I have to say that I don’t think I’ll be in an extreme hurry to do so, however. The historical setting of these novels is undoubtedly fascinating, and the protagonist’s personal trajectory is set up in a promising manner: son of a Huguenot father and a Catholic mother, just setting off to Montpellier to train as a doctor as the first novel ends, and equipped with a properly assorted duo of brothers (potential nasty-piece-of-work elder brother and heir François and angelic, illegitimate, redhead younger brother Samson). There’s also, in the background, a sprawling baronial-agricultural household, with a small army of colorful retainers of all stripes, male and female, headed by “the brethren,” Pierre’s widowed father, Jean de Siorac, and his old military brother-in-arms, Jean de Sauveterre.There are several things that rather spoiled this novel for me, however. Merle is in such Dumas-like territory in this work (La Reine Margot. in particular), that it’s impossible not to make comparisons, and I must say on the evidence so far Merle is much clunkier than Dumas in the way in which he integrates his history with his fiction. In fact, I’ve rarely read a historical novel that is quite so unrelenting in splicing together its fiction with long passages of straight historical narrative, undigested and unintegrated. I found this a little wearisome even though I am interested in the history, and I can imagine some readers being put off entirely. The other thing that detracted from my pleasure in this book was the extraordinary sexism of its representation of women. I’m not hypersensitive about this kind of thing. I read a lot of pre twentieth-century literature, and I’m used to reading in a historicizing manner, taking account of the belief-systems of the time when a work was written. Historicize as I might, though, I did find Merle pretty exceptional in the relentlessly one-dimensional character of his portrayal of female characters. In fact, I was rereading Boccaccio’s The Decameron for professional reasons at the same time that I was finishing Merle’s novel and found it quite amusing how much more varied and interesting and open-minded Boccaccio managed to be about women, writing six centuries earlier. Virtually the first thing we hear about every single female figure in Merle’s novel is the size of her breasts, and in many cases that remains these figures’ most salient characteristic (not only in a literal sense). At points I felt I was watching a Russ Meyer film set in sixteenth-century France. Other than a ravening, “Eve-like” sexual appetite; a nurturing instinct most apparent in the lushly endowed wet nurse Barberine; and a high degree of superstition, religious and otherwise, it’s hard to think of another character trait possessed by any of the quite numerous female characters in the book. Oh, yes—Pierre’s mother gets a bit of “aristocratic” coldness and social snobbishness in addition to her redoubtable cleavage, and Cathérine de’ Medici, who appears offstage in the historical backstory, gets the usual “Machiavelli in petticoats,” poison-you-as-soon-as-look-at-you stereotypical baggage. At times, Merle’s tunnel vision can even be quite amusing. There’s one point in the narrative when Pierre’s father rescues a former family servant from a plague-ridden town (this isn’t really a spoiler; it’s a very minor incident). This follows a passage which I found one of the best in the novel, chilling in its account of the effects of the plague, and interesting in the details it gives of the logistics of epidemic management (Merle doesn’t stint on his research). The woman to be rescued has been locked up for some time in isolation in a quarantined plague house after her employer died of the illness. What kind of state someone would be in after an experience of this kind is difficult to imagine. The psychological impact of this traumatic experience is the least of Merle’s concerns, though—why bother with women’s psychology when they have many more interesting features to talk about? The woman, Franchou, appears at the window “her face drawn but good color in her cheeks … revealing two beautiful breasts barely contained in her bodice.” I guess we have to be thankful, at least, that they’re not “undulating” or “palpitating,” which women’s bodies do rather a lot of in this novel.I mean, really.

  • Clif Hostetler
    2019-04-13 16:15

    This book is a historical novel narrated in the first person voice of a fictional character named Pierre de Siorac living in the Perigord region of southwest France. This is the first book of a thirteen book series and covers Pierre's early years from his birth in 1552 to 1567. To help orient readers of this review, the time period covered by this book is after the beginning of the Reformation (1517) and before the Bartholomew's Day massacre (1572). I mention St. Bartholomew's Day massacre because the narrator of this story is raised in a Huguenot community, so we as readers know something ominous about the narrator's future. This book series was published between 1977 and 2003 and is slowly being translated into English. I think only the first three books have been translated thus far. It is my understanding that this book series is popular in France and has a reputation for being carefully based on historical research. The time covered by this book was not a particularly good time to be alive. Brigands roamed the countryside which made travel and commerce hazardous. It's a time when disease, plague, famine and death were frequent and unpredictable. And as if that's not bad enough, intercommunity conflict between Catholics and the Huguenots was endemic. Religious differences were generally considered to be a justifiable motive for murder.The story highlights miscellaneous details of life such as sleeping arrangements of the children, role of the wet-nurse, work at harvest time, raising of livestock, milling of grain, and medical practices. Of course military and policing action were part of life then too. From time to time the story's narration pauses to bring the reader up-to-speed regarding international politics and royal decrees from faraway Paris.The book provides a credible description of life at that time. However, in my opinion only reader's with a particular interest in that era of European history will find it of interest.

  • Bruce
    2019-04-20 16:34

    Between 1977 and his death in 2004, Robert Merle wrote thirteen novels in his “Fortunes of France” series. Thus far only the first two have been translated into English, although the third is expected to be available next summer. The entire series has been much admired in France. I wish that I could be as enthusiastic about the work as those in Europe apparently are. The writing in this first novel, which covers the years from 1547 to 1565, seems to me to be generally flat. The basic issues in the latter half of France’s 16th century were the religious wars and territorial ambitions of the continental powers and England, this book focusing particularly on the persecution of the French Protestant Huguenots. The two main protagonists are Huguenots, their lives and religion being contrasted with those of their family and colleagues who are Catholic.The story is told in the first person by Pierre, son of one of the two “Brethren,” Jean de Siorac and Jean de Sauveterre, companions during the wars who pledged their lives and fortunes to each other before the narrative begins, most of the novel’s actual events taking place in the Dordogne, near Sarlat. There seem to be more characters in the book than Merle can comfortably develop, and most remain for the most part two-dimensional, representing particular points of view and nothing more. The narrative seems fairly faithful to actual history, although it is clearly not meant to be a history text. But is it a successful novel in and of itself? Maybe Merle himself could not decide what he wanted to write, what he really intended. Descriptions in the text are sketchy, mostly focusing on the external personal characteristics of his characters. As a brief digression, let me say that I cannot recall having read any book in which the author was so obsessed with breasts. Merle is fascinated with breasts, almost all female characters being described, often in detail, by their breast characteristics, as if one might identify them only in this regard. It seems odd, at first puzzling, ultimately tedious.Dialogue in the story is by and large nonspecific, not pointing to any particular historical period and only sometimes differentiating the characters, but this may be the fault of the translation. Merle’s syntax is not notable, certainly not especially interesting, and his diction, except for vocabulary regarding war materials, is bland. I missed the creative panache that Hillary Mantel, for example, brings to her English historical fiction.The author does convey the ethical and religious dilemmas of the protagonists, and these provide the primary subtexts of the novel. There are convincing descriptions of the plague, a few battles, and of the living conditions and life ways of the period. The narrative fulfils the goal of realism within a fictional context. It is told in a very linear fashion except for the brief introductory material providing background before the narrator’s birth. In general, the book only rarely sparkles, and it was often hard for me to sustain interest in the narrative. It is far from being a bad novel, but neither am I convinced that it is anything special. When I think of other French writers of historical fiction it is obvious that Merle is certainly no Victor Hugo, no Alexandre Dumas. Time, life, is short, especially for those of us of a certain age, and one is reluctant to spend it reading anything but the best. I am not currently inclined to move on to the next volume in the series.

  • Daniel
    2019-04-05 13:13

    "The Brethren" is a wonderful, lusty novel grounded in the history of early 16C France. Merle describes the structure of his book quite well in his foreword:"It is a concentric tail, whose first circle is a family, second circle a province and third a kingdom, whose princes receive no more attention than is necessary to understand the happiness and unhappiness of those who, far away in their baronial courts, depended on their decisions." (7)This approach is brilliant. Merle balances historical anecdotes with personal passages and establishes the atmosphere of the period in both large and minute details. The conflict between Protestants and Catholics is not only clear, it is also passionately rendered, which made it easier for me to understand the motivations behind terrible acts of violence. I also grasped some of the more personal conflicts that occurred at chateau Mespech, especially after the Brethren decide to take their stand on religion.Speaking of, the concept of "the Brethren" is awesome and just as mesmerizing as the camaraderie that Dumas depicted in The Three Musketeers. The medieval romantic ideals that remain attractive to this day manifest throughout this novel and contribute to some dramatic and exciting scenes. I gobbled this novel up as both an historical survey and a lush, full work of fiction.I will now shelve this book feeling both buoyant and heavy-hearted; the former, because I loved reading this book, loved the feel of its pages, loved the look of its simple, elegant cover, loved living in its words; the latter, because 12 volumes remain in this story and the second does not appear in English translation (thank you Pushkin Press!) until September of this year. Then again, I can look forward to these books being in my life for some years to come.

  • James
    2019-04-16 14:30

    I vividly remember watching one of the many three musketeer movies for the first time as a seven year old and being thoroughly enchanted by the pervasive violence and high jinks. I also find the Huguenots, especially the diaspora, really interesting as well. So a history of violent sword brandishing Hugenots was always going to play well with me. There is hopefully much for people who don't share my predilections to enjoy in this historical fiction. Written from the perspective of a young boy growing up in a Protestant barons household it is well researched and engagingly written account of both the times and a fun escapist set of stories and adventures. As a sidenote, the authors obsession with breast feeding is either a touch of genius in terms of capturing the thoughts of a teenage boy or a misguided attempt to appeal to a particular demographic usually served by other publications. It's a fun read, not the most brilliant historical fiction book I have ever read but a really pleasant and informative way to spend a couple of hours. Looking forward to the next in the series.

  • Laura
    2019-04-03 13:40

    The first book of a series of 13 books. Very well written, even by using some medieval French, the story starts under the reign of Catherine de Medicis and Charles IX.

  • Pascal
    2019-04-14 14:26

    Compte tenu de mes goûts, voilà un livre assez proche du "livre parfait" !La qualité d'écriture est renversante : émerveillement garanti à chaque phrase, qu'il s'agisse de dialogue ou de récit...Je compte bien lire les 13 volumes, et je viens d'ailleurs d'acheter le second (même si, conformément à mon habitude, mon prochain livre sera dans un autre style et une autre époque).Je recommande très chaudement à toute personne intéressée par l'histoire de France (ici, le XVIe siècle) et/ou du christianisme (ici, guerres entre catholiques et protestants).

  • Julianne Douglas
    2019-03-24 15:23

    Hankering for fiction set in sixteenth century France? I recently discovered THE FORTUNES OF FRANCE by Robert Merle, a series of thirteen historical novels that span the years 1547 to 1661. Written in French from 1977 to 2003, the books follow the Siorac family of Périgord through the tumultous Wars of Religion and into the reign of the Bourbon kings. The first three novels (THE BRETHREN, CITY OF WISDOM AND BLOOD, and HERETIC DAWN) have recently been translated into English by Professor T. Jefferson Kline and published by Pushkin Press. Having just ripped through the first volume, I fully understand why this captivating series has sold over five million copies in France.Pierre de Siorac, a Huguenot doctor turned spy, narrates the first six books; his son picks up the thread in the remaining volumes. In Book I, THE BRETHREN, Pierre recounts the establishment of the Siorac family in remote southwestern France. Consulting his father’s Book of Reason, a combination diary and account book, for information on events that occured before his own birth, Pierre describes the arrival of his father Jean de Siorac and his comrade in arms, Jean de Sauveterre, in Périgord after successful service in the French army. The pair, close as real brothers (hence, “The Brethren”), pool their plunder to buy the castle of Mespech, a neglected property they soon coax into a thriving estate. Staunch Protestants, they work to establish Mespech as a reformed stronghold, but the resistance of Jean’s wife Isabelle, a devout and unwavering Catholic, complicates their plans and threatens their allegiances. Furthermore, as soldiers and wealthy landowners, the two Jeans must constantly weigh their loyalty to Catholic king and country against steadfast devotion to their new faith.The clash between Catholicism and Calvinism--strife that plunges France into an era of long and bloody wars--not only defines the novel's political landscape but colors the characters' interactions. The religious impasse between Pierre's parents affects their children’s relationships with them and with each other, as well as the servants’ and retainers’ relationships with their overlords. Many of the servants continue their Catholic practices in private, and the two Jeans often disagree on how strictly to punish infractions against the Protestantism they impose on family and estate. Moreover, Mespech’s adherence to the Reform, long undeclared, causes friction with neighbors and municipal authorities. In recounting the events of his childhood, Pierre finds his loyalty torn between respect and admiration for his Protestant father and attachment to his Catholic mother and the female servants who raise him. His engaging voices captures the tone of a difficult era, one which forced people to make difficult choices between the demands of heart and mind and soul. With great finesse, author Robert Merle chanels the religious strife fracturing the kingdom into the specific personal conflicts that power the narrative, showing how the abstractions of competing religious philosophies play out in concrete fashion within intimate circles of family and friends.Despite its theological underpinnings, however, THE BRETHREN reads like a swashbuckling novel reminiscent of an Alexandre Dumas. A master at creating original and memorable characters, from defiant gypsies to doting wetnurses to disabled veterans to blustering butcher-barons, Merle embroils his large cast in an endless series of entertaining and cleverly interwoven escapades. Quick-paced and wide-ranging, the novel unfolds with delightful Rabelaisian exuberance. At the end of this first volume, with Mespech secure and flourishing, young Pierre, as second son, sets out for Montpellier to take up medical studies. Ready and eager to follow, I look forward to his continued adventures. With twelve more volumes to read, I'm certain to be busy for quite some time!

  • Christopher Leary
    2019-03-29 16:32

    Robert Merle is one of the best HF writers ever. Regrettably, his finest creation, the 13-book Fortune of France series has not been available to English readers. Well, that's about to change. The English translation of the first book comes out in September 2014 in the UK (lucky Brits). The US version is not out until March 2015. Never mind, it's on its way at last.It long puzzled me that there was no English translation (it's been available in German for a while). Why the puzzlement? Because this a rip-roaring historical yarn, brilliantly researched and with engaging characters. I'm convinced HF fans will love it. The nearest equivalent I can think of in English would be O'Brian's Aubry/Maturin series with the proviso that you learn more history from Merle's book.Having used the word 'rip-roaring' I might have given the impression this book would be like one of the Bernard Cornwell novels which tend to bolt along at a cracking rate, from fight to fight as it were. Merle's books however move at a less hectic pace allowing time to explore the politics and culture of the era (there's still plenty of sword fights though). The characters are also more fully rounded than in say a Sharpe book (no criticism intended here of Cornwell's work - I enjoy his books).The Fortunes of France books are brilliant and I very much hope that Pushkin Press are rewarded for their translation efforts with lots of sales. That way they'll be encouraged to finish the series.

  • Teipu
    2019-04-08 19:29

    An amazing book! I never would have thought that reading about the religious wars in France in the 16th century can be so interesting (a topic which I'm normally not really interested in).Of course it's not all about history but tells about the family of the Baron de Siorac and especially about his second son Pierre. We learn a lot about his childhood and Pierre tells us a lot of interesting, funny and sad incidents at the castle of Mespech. The time frame is around 1550 to 1566.It's the first part in a 13 volume series and I really want to read the other parts as well.

  • Matt Brady
    2019-03-31 18:40

    A pretty fun historical adventure story about a Hugenot family struggling to survive in mid 16th century Framce. If you like Three Mustketeers sort of stuff and can deal with the (probably hisotrically accurate) racism and sexism it's pretty enjoyable. Or "le good" as the French might say :)

  • Nathalie
    2019-04-23 16:17

    Magnifique, splendide, et encore, ce n'est que le tout début d'une longue série qui se bonifie au fil des volumes...

  • Elaine Ruth Boe
    2019-04-01 16:40

    Set in sixteenth-century France during the civil wars between Huguenots and Catholics, The Brethren is told as a reflection by the now 25 year old son of one of the Brethren. It starts with how the Brethren met and continues up to the protagonist Pierre's departure from home to study medicine as a teenager. Warning: there are a lot of dry passages about the political moves of the kings of France and religious battles.This book was written in the 1970s by a man. That's really all you need to understand what irked me about this book. The book is sexist, objectifying women to a gross degree. This is really a book written by men for men. The female characters are all flat, only described in importance based on their relationships to the men of the story. The serving women's identities are wholly tied up in their physical appeal. I don't know how many times I had to read about the wet nurses' large white breasts. Pierre at 10, not to mention his father in adulthood, are always transfixed by this woman's large white breasts when she breastfeeds. The younger women are described by their haunches and breasts as well. One could argue that this view of women stays in line with how sixteenth-century men treated women. True. But Pierre so often makes inciteful realizations about other social conditions in the sixteenth century, like his father's amassing of wealth at the workers' expense or the hypocritical nature of demanding religious freedom but then forcing servants to convert to your own religion, that I don't believe that this is just Merle keeping in line with medieval attitudes. Since he bestows on Pierre and his father an understanding of many injustices in their society, Merle's treatment of women is inexcusable.

  • Steve Matheson
    2019-04-23 16:17

    Drawn to the book by the enticing description on the cover - action, exhilarating blend of adventure and romance - my disappointment grew as I trudged through the chapters, expecting to be immersed in this "swashbuckling" and "lusty, fast paced and heady" read. Ignoring my frustration, I battled on, determined to give Robert Merle's first volume of 'Fortunes of France' a fair turn.In reality, the novel proved to be a grudging plod through 16th century France; a fictionalised history lesson, seen through the eyes of a Huguenot family in Catholic France, set during the religious wars between 1547 and 1565.Perhaps clouded by or lost in translation, to describe it as swashbuckling is an exaggeration at best, and more accurately a misrepresentation. I found it easy it put down, with my initial interest in collecting the full 13-volume set, gradually evaporating. After a hard slog, I managed to finish it.The author has been likened to Dumas, but in my opinion, his storytelling lacks the romance, attraction and fluidity of the master's Three Musketeers.

  • Lynne Faubert
    2019-03-23 18:20

    Pendant que d'autres dévoraient La chambre des dames, je trippais sur cette série moyennâgeuse de Robert Merle. J'en garde peu de souvenirs, mais bon, on dirait que tout livre s'efface tranquillement et inévitablement de ma mémoire, quelle que soit sa valeur (mais je n'ai qu'à relire quelques pages pour que tout resurgisse du néant). Ce dont je me souviens par contre c'est d'avoir été totalement séduite par cette série, ado ou jeune adulte, au point de les aligner coup sur coup. C'était un peu comme le prolongement naturel des Rois maudits, qui demeure mon plus grand coup de coeur franchouille avec Pennac et Dumas.

  • Bob Stocker
    2019-04-20 11:23

    Written from the point of view of a second son growing up in a Huguenot family, The Brethren by Robert Merle describes the life in 16th Century France, a time of religious wars, power struggles, plagues and famines. People more interested than I am in the time and place may find this novel to be better than the three stars that I'm giving it. Although for my taste the book did not rate more stars, it was good enough that I'll probably try the next book in Merle's Fortunes of France series.

  • Vít
    2019-04-18 19:25

    Četl jsem několik dílů téhle ságy v osmdesátých letech a vracím se k ní tedy cca po 30 letech. Tenkrát se mi kronika Petra ze Sioraku velmi líbila a líbí se mi i dnes. Robert Merle je bez diskuse výborný spisovatel a i překladatel Miroslav Drápal si s archaickým slohem vyprávění poradil více než dobře. Navíc jde o velmi zajímavé období francouzských dějin (k nimž je tento první díl pouhým úvodem). Čili doporučuji jak čtenářům, tak i "krásným čtenářkám", které tu jako bonus najdou i větší než malé množství romantiky.

  • Keith Currie
    2019-04-17 12:40

    This is the first in a long series of novels based around the religious wars in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century France. The central family are Huguenot and this offers an unusual perspective on French history. A combination of social, religious and political history, with a strong seasoning of classic French storytelling in the style of Dumas or Hugo, make this an entertaining and compelling read. Volumes Two and Three are also available in translation, so I will be pursuing them with some fervour.

  • Len Northfield
    2019-04-21 11:39

    A first class work of historical fiction. The setting and the pace feel quite precise; the time is delineated with detail and without excessive attention to swashbuckling diversions. The precision and focus on the people and the small aspects of normal life in Mespech, sets the grander picture of this time of religious upheaval in France in real lives.I look forward to the next fourteen volumes!

  • Audrey
    2019-03-30 19:36

    Un flash-back terriblement réaliste dans la France du 16e siècle. Un excellent roman pour (re)découvrir l'histoire de France de cet âge à travers la vie d'un petit village du Périgord. Je lirai la suite avec plaisir.

  • Veronika Iris
    2019-04-15 13:18

    Ich habe sehr lange gebraucht um reinzukommen und fand den Anfang ein bisschen unnötig langatmig, aber die zweite Hälfte habe ich dann so ziemlich in einem Rutsch gelesen und sie hat mir sehr viel Lust auf mehr gemacht. :)

  • Nicola
    2019-04-03 16:30

    A very interesting history in amongst the family story

  • Chris
    2019-04-04 13:34

    This was originally published on The Scrying Orb.Written in 1977 and supposedly an unheralded french classic, this is the first of a 13 volume saga finally being translated into english. It’s about two soldiers, both named Jean, sworn brothers-maybe-lovers, who return from war to establish lands, build wealth, be fruitful and multiply. One of the Jean’s sons, Pierre, narrates his family’s life from some time in the future. It’s a tumultuous life indeed as the Jeans are newly reformed protestants amidst the French Wars of Religion. A war and period I knew nothing about prior to this book. But I learned plenty.Because, you see, the narrator, the characters themselves often speak like textbooks:(character recounting a battle that happened offscreen)"He reinforced the gates of the citadel with four cannon brought from the streets of the city, and launched numerous attacks on our position but couldn’t manage to dislodge us. When dawn brought low tide, Wentworth, realizing he’d lost half his troops, decided to surrender. At his request, Guise granted all of the inhabitants of the city safe conduct, just as Edward III had done for the French two centuries earlier, when he had taken the city."Or try this (narration)"On 2nd August, a month after the Bayonne meetings, the principal Protestant lords of the Sarlat region, still greatly alarmed, met at Mespech. Armand de Gontaut Saint-Genies, Foucad de Saint-Astier, Geoffroy de Baynac, Jean de Foucauld and Geoffroy de Caumont arrived separately, under the cover of darkness and in the greatest secrecy.”The worst part is that the history lessons are actually the most interesting part of this book. The characters are two dimensional; they are only known by a handful of unchanging traits. The dumb superstitious servant woman. The lugubrious* man who never speaks except to impart dismal wisdom. The haughty, cowardly older brother. The blessed idiot. The guy with a moustache. The Jeans actually pick up so many random passerby (reminding me of recruiting random people in role playing games) that it becomes difficult to tell them apart, even with their singular attributes.There’s not much plot, per se. The characters are largely swept along by history, generally profiting from the ills affecting their countryman. As I mentioned, the history itself is interesting. France was brutally at its own throat as the protestants and catholics tortured, murdered, and dispossessed each other. The actual reasoning that people converted to the ‘reformed religion’ — corruption of the church, nobles buying their way into heaven, excessive pomp that missed the point — and why the catholics tried to hold on, not least of all due to the celebratory nature of feast days and the way the worship of saints endured as a stand-in for pagan tradition is fascinating. They seem mostly indistinguishable to outsiders nowadays.But if I wanted to read a history book, I would have done so. And surely received a better account.Also, an aspect of this book important to note: the author is obsessed with breasts. They are described in detail in virtually any scene that involves a woman. They might be barely concealed by rags or about to fall out at any moment. There are tense action scenes with bizarre interludes where Merle deems a status-check on a woman’s breasts absolutely necessary. Moreover, there’s an excessive and honestly hilarious focus on breast feeding."And this said, she drew out from her blouse with a firm hand and an easy gesture first her right and then her left breast, both so round and large and white that a great silence fell over the room so that all you could hear was the tiniest crackle of the fire and the gluttonous suckling of the two hungries."I cannot stop cracking up at this passage. Just this whole room descending into silence, mouths agape. When I was mentioning the character types above, I failed to name the wetnurse, as her only function in the narrative is breastfeeding. There’s actually another paragraph or two of description that follows that quote. And this is not the only time this happens. Over and over, with multiple characters. Someone’s got a fetish.*I have never seen this word used so much in one book in my life. It’s in every sentence that involves this guy.

  • Joshua
    2019-04-09 13:35

    One of the finest novels I've ever read. Extremely well-developed, authentic characters and an engrossing story set in the fascinating and tumultuous period of the French Wars of Religion.

  • Elspeth G. Perkin
    2019-04-08 13:35

    An earthy tale that is only the beginning of 16th-century discord of church, crown and one family in FranceThe Brethren Fortunes of France: Volume 1 captures the violent 16th century with a narrator that is perfect to share his unsettled and conflicted world with his readers. Born of a Catholic (Papist) and a Protestant (Huguenot) Pierre de Siorac is our guide into the many bloody conflicts and the first bleak outcomes of church, crown and even his own familial discord. Nothing is certain in this era as Pierre opens his personal history to us and tells us about daily occurrences, continual fears of attack from inside and outside high chateau walls and shows us the battles that rage from personal interests. A little different from other works readers may have encountered or may expect about this era being a commoner's voice is used to recreate this fascinating era versus a strictly royal perspective of the conflicting religious opinions and views. Brief appearances of French Royalty are made but only mentioned in the occasional conversation with travelers so the reader learns information as our narrator first and continually hears about the danger that is being stoked by intolerance and political gain and there is still much to come. Being the first of thirteen novels in this series more details are shared with the reader than they may bargain for and it is assured something will be learned by the last page. In the end, I will be the first to admit I was skeptical about this title. I usually prefer the royal immersion and treatment of fiction and I can never resist when I see a crown or ornamental trinket on the cover and I quickly find the time to cast out reality and slip deep into my indulgences. I’ll admit it; I want the glitter of history and sometimes overlook the earthy side of the past especially when it comes to French history. I love to be proven wrong in situations like these. For me this novel was a thundering and enthralling adventure that had all the details that I always hope to encounter in fiction: a new portion of history to look further into, multifaceted characters, a believable atmospheric story and of course an entertaining balance between historic facts with creative fiction. Perhaps a little paced at the beginning as the foundation was set but once this story gathered speed it became hard to put down, something a little different and well worth the time. I look forward to City of Wisdom and Blood: Fortunes of France: Volume 2*I would like to thank NetGalley and Steerforth Press for the opportunity to read and enjoy The Brethren: Fortunes of France: Volume 1

  • Antenna
    2019-04-23 13:39

    This opening novel in a thirteen part saga of the Huguenot de Siorac family during an unsettled period of French history starting in 1547 has at last been translated into English as "The Brethren". "Fortune de France" is best read in its original language, if possible, since it conveys more of a sense of the period, of the personalities of the key characters and the alternating humour and pathos of the chain of incidents. By contrast, the English translation which I used to check a few points appears to be a rather wooden literal translation.The story is told by Pierre, a sometimes hot-blooded but perceptive and questioning narrator. At first, I was a little bored by what seemed like a dry beginning, and thought I would prefer to read a straightforward history of a period which I have never quite grasped: the French Wars of Religion between the Catholics and equally intolerant Protestants.Quite soon, I became intrigued by the main characters: the contrast between the serious, puritanical Sauveterre, and his more charismatic "blood-brother" Siorac, spontaneous, often generous, yet capricious with a capacity for great inconsistency and callousness. A doctor by training, he risks his life saving his bastard child Samson from a plague-ridden village, only to introduce him into his household as his son, regardless of the feelings of his long-suffering wife. When "the brethren" feel prepared to risk declaring their protestant faith, Siorac tries to get all his children and servants on side, before cornering his wife with the command to abandon her catholic faith, although he knows that she is devoted to it.There are some daft episodes of three musketeer bravado, but also some tense and moving scenes exploring the psychology of people with complex emotions of jealousy, rivalry, divided loyalties, duty, fear, to which we can relate even when they are bound by very different beliefs and attitudes from our own. Siorac faces the disapproval of a highly regarded doctor with his scepticism over the value of bleeding people as a cure, but when proved right does not point this out since he knows that the other man's vanity will not let him accept the truth. There are also some interesting and convincing accounts of how the Sioracs fortified their property, related to their (remarkably few) servants and workers, and made a living from the land.I'm not sure I feel motivated to read any more of the series, but found this a surprisingly good read - in French, but less so in English.

  • Diarmid
    2019-04-12 13:26

    The first volume in an epic of French historical fiction, set in the second half of the Sixteenth Century against the backdrop of the Reformation and the French wars of religion. It tells the story of two retired protestant soldiers, Jean de Siorac and Jean de Sauveterre, setting up home in the Perigord, told from the perspective of one of Siorac's sons. It's an interesting story of life in the period and of the history of the times, though it's told from a strictly male perspective and the female characters aren't very well developed.

  • Mirella
    2019-03-30 14:32

    In Book 1, The Brethren, Robert Merle has written an intensive historical novel set in France during one of its most turbulent periods. In 16th century France, battle rages between the Huegenots and the Catholics with murderous results from both sides. At the heart of the story are two compelling protagonists - Siorac and Sauvterre who try to hide their Protestant roots from the world as they amass their fortune. They swore an oath to become brothers, hence the title of the first book - The Brethren.Merle does an excellent job of interweaving accurate historical detail with an interesting plot. This is pure historical fiction - with a strong focus on historical fact! This novel teaches as well as entertains. There are violent scenes throughout, a testament to the times, as well as struggles each character faces. Book 2 takes the reader a little further into the future. The point of view character is a Huguenot nobleman named Pierre. With his half-brother, Samson struggle to study in Montpellier which is predominantly Catholic. The religious battles and troubles continue in the second volume.Robert Merle's strength is in his character development. His characters literally leap off the pages because they are so authentic, so complex, so human! And he likes to throw in the odd humorous scene which only serves to endear one to the characters more fully. The main theme throughout the books is the religious conflict that plagued France during the 16th century. Merle's novels are very strong in historical detail which sometimes overpowers the plot/storyline. For those who love rich historical fiction, this series is definitely for you!Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  • Czarny Pies
    2019-04-15 18:39

    Fortune de france ne suit pas la recette pour un roman historique suivi avec beaucoup de succès par Alexandre Dumas, Robert Graves et bien d'autres où l'on raconte les aventures d'un monarchaque dont la cour est pleine de mauvaises langues. Le romancier qui suit cette recette ne fait que choisir les incidents les plus scabreuses des chroniqeurs contemporains pour construire une histoire bourrée de séductions, mensonges, trahisons, adultères, meurtres et d'autres abominations. Meme si dans la plupart des cas le roman de cette trempe ne s'éloigne pas beaucout de la réalité, le procédé est quand même très opportuniste. Robert Merle, à son crédit, a choisi un autre approche. Son protagoniste- narrateur est le fils d'un petit baron fraichement annobli (c'est-à-dire qui a recu ses titres de noblesse pour ses actions lors de la prise de Calais par Henri II). Le père est très ambitieux mais il possède aussi un côté idéaliste qui le pousse à se rallier à la Réforme huguenote. Il veut battre pour la France contre les ennemis de l'extérieur et en meme temps lutter contre l'église Romaine Catholique qui est un des piliers de la monarchie francaise. L'héros est pris tous les temps entre deux feux car sa mère qui est de la vieille noblesse est Catholique fervente. Il ya gens qui vont aimer ce roman car le narrateur voit les folies de l'époque avec des yeux modernes. Il présente les défauts et la mauvaise foie des deux parties: les Catholiques et les Protestants. Merle présente assez bien le débat de société de l'époque. Le problème est que le protagoniste n'est pas accrocheur et que le déroulement de l'intrigue n'a pas de surpris. Fortune de france est finallement bien intentioné mas très ennuyant.

  • Becky
    2019-04-16 16:21

    This is one of those books that has sat on my to-read shelf for a wee whike now, and having finally got around to reading it I wish I'd done so sooner. This is a properly old school historical adventure novel in the same family as the novels of Dumas, Druon and Hope. There are even shades of Stendhal here in the style of writing and form of story. Set during the religious wars of 16th century France, this is the story of a Huguenot family building a place for themselves in the Perigord. It is a classic adventure story peopled with architypes like the stoic soldier, the bawdy peasant and the devout noble woman, in the background the religious termoil of the reformation is played out and impacts upon the central characters again and again. I loved it. Previously I have only really read about the French side of this story through reading about the St Bartholemew's day massacre (something which is alluded to in this novel and that must play a major role in book two of the series). In fact apart from the reaction to this event from Elizabeth I, my knowledge of the religious confict in France is almost exclusively from Dumas. La Reine Margot and even certain events in the Musketeer cycle is the extent of my previous reading on the subject. Having read this I am keen to find out more as well as to get hold of part two in the series. If you enjoy historical fiction, based firmly in real events and with a great dash of swashbuckling adventure thrown in then this is for you.