Years ago when I first began my love affair with historical fiction, I read a wonderful novel called To Dance With Kings by Rosalind Laker, set at the glittering court of Versailles and peopled with such personalities as Louis XV and Madame Pompadour, and Marie Antoinette and Count Fersen, so I was pleased to happen across a later novel she had written about the early days of cinema history with a heroine who rose from magic lantern show assistant to silent screen star. The classic movie lover in me couldn't wait to read this one.
I wish I could say Brilliance was brilliant, but lackluster sums it up best. It’s a rather ordinary rags to riches and love conquers all tale. It begins in 1894 when Lisette Decourt, runs away from home after discovering that her fiance is having an affair with her horrid stepmother. To preserve her anonymity, she travels with an Englishman, Daniel Shaw, who operates a traveling magic lantern show (a popular form of entertain before the movies featuring glass slides sometimes accompanied by special lightning and sound effects) and becomes his assistant. Lisette is fascinated when Daniel tells her about the quest by Thomas Edison, and the Lumiere Brothers, whom Lisette conveniently knows, as they were neighbors of her late, lamented grandmother, to create a motion picture camera. He has even experimented with it himself. The two become lovers one afternoon, but afterwards Lisette flees. She knows that now that sex has intruded on their relationship they cannot go back to being just friends. As she builds a new life for herself, Lisette encounters many ups and downs, a spectacular run of bad luck in fact, and gives birth to Daniel’s child in a convent where nuns, who think they know best, give the child up for adoption without Lisette’s knowledge or consent. Of course the lovers are ultimately reunited, a moving picture camera is developed, and Lisette, at first a reluctant actress, becomes a star, renowned for her portrayals of tragic heroines of history like Joan of Arc and Marie Antoinette, and even survives a scandal.
The magic I encountered in the pages of To Dance With Kings is lacking, but its still fun, predictable, happily ever after escapist fluff, and you actually do learn a little about the early days of moviemaking along the way, so it’s not a bad book to pass the time with.