In Search of Honor Book Review: Historical Fiction in the French Revolution

In Search of Honor by Donnalynn Hess is a historical fiction tale of a Frenchman, Jacques Chénier, who struggles to deal with his anger at the nobility. The wealthy often escape justice for the crimes they commit, exactly the case in Jacques’s father’s murder. Longing for revenge, thoughts of acquiring retribution inhabit Jacques’s mind. Joy in life is scarce. When he accepts Christ, however, relief arrives.

Key Characters

Besides the protagonist, Jacques, most of the characters in this book come and go. However, some are worth mentioning. Tragically, Jacques’s father is killed early in the story when Jacques is only fourteen, which so agitates his wife that she falls into a depression and becomes addicted to drinking.

Phillipe Grammônd, a few years younger than Jacques, is a loyal friend and helper. Jacques is used by Danton, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, whose goal it is to be an influential crowd-pleaser. Revealing the truth by his example, Pierre-Joseph Aumônt, a kind old man, leads Jacques to Christ, where he finds what he has been searching for all along. All these characters shape Jacques’s life in some way, both positively and negatively.

The Plot Thickens

In the first chapter, Jacques’s father is killed by a son of a nobleman for illegally hunting on his property, changing Jacques’s life drastically from the way he knew it. Underlying in the book is the want for revenge and justice, because the authorities let the nobleman’s son off easy. Jacques takes up his father’s trade, which is sculpturing, and endeavors to support his depressed and drinking mother. When a devious nobleman cheats a fellow artisan and friend, Thomas, out of his money, Jacques and Thomas impetuously seek to steal back the money owed. They are captured and imprisoned.

In the Bastille, they are placed with another man who had been there for years. While Jacques is carrying out a part in the stranger’s plan-of-escape, he meets Pierre-Joseph Aumônt, a devout Christian. Pierre-Joseph has been in prison for much of his many years, all because he was a Huguenot, and now thought to be crazy. He plants the seed of Christ in Jacques during the time spent together, but soon the get-away preparations are completed.

Storming of Bastille

Successfully escaping from the Bastille, Jacques and Thomas are at last able to rejoin their families, but one of them does not have anyone to come home to. Jacques finds his mother gone. She had starved, not using the money left to buy food. The neighbors had buried her.

Although sorrowful at the loss of the last of his family, Jacques resumes his vocation again and becomes involved with Danton and Dr. Curtis, who play prominent parts in the French Revolution. Creating real-life wax figures in Dr. Curtis’s wax showroom, Jacques makes many of the heroes of the common people. Because of these two things, he becomes popular, but popularity does not satisfy him as he is still lonely. Revengeful thoughts also haunt him. Jacques’s past is causing his life to be miserable.

When the Bastille is stormed for the weapons in it, Jacques is compelled to be in the lead with some others. There he discovers the nobleman who had killed his father, imprisoned because of the Revolution. Rushing at him, blinded by vengeance Jacques almost kills the noble, but another commoner murders him first. In the prison Jacques finds Pierre-Joseph and brings him home with him. Patiently, Pierre-Joseph demonstrates God’s lavish love toward Jacques, and eventually he trusts in Christ as well. There Jacques finds relief from the guilt and pain of his past.

Author’s Recommendation

In Search of Honor not only provides historical information in an exciting story, but has a Christian theme as well. While it is gloomy in places, especially at the conclusion, overall it is an adventurous and unpredictable tale, which is in a first-person format. Learning about historical events, sculpturing, the French way-of-life, and Christianity, historical fiction authors rarely are able to pack all this into a book and not cause it to be boring, but Donnalynn Hess can. Clearly showing Jacques’s need for Christ, and, indirectly, everyone’s, In Search of Honor is a remarkable book.