Hello again, m'dears. Today we have Petra from Winsome Reviews reviewing Baroness Orczy's first novel, The Emperor's Candlesticks.
Baroness Orczy’s first novel did not prove a commercial success and even ardent fans of hers can see why. Though the story contains traces of the traits that would catapult her to fame—international intrigue, beautiful heroines, bloodthirsty villains—the plot proves uneven in pacing and never strays from the predictable. The strength of the book lies in the sensitive portrayal of its characters, but even they struggle for the full interest and sympathy of the readers.
Ivàn Volenski forms part of a group dedicated to overthrowing the Russian government. Readers do not obtain much information as to their full goals or even most of their methods, though Baroness Orczy takescare to inform them that the majority of the group abhors any plan that would require them to murder in cold blood. Even so, the group carries out a bold kidnapping that could require them to do just that if their plans should go awry, and one suspects that their comrades would not be languishing in jail if they had not concocted some other violent plot. Orczy attempts to extricate Ivàn even further from such schemes by repeatedly blaming his involvement on his nationality. Apparently poor Ivàn has no free will in the matter; his heritage dictates that he should join anarchist societies even if he does not fully believe in them.
Unfortunately, this explanation does not succeed in making Ivàn as sympathetic as one suspects Orczy wished. Readers might respect the man more if he truly believed in his cause, truly desired to form a better future for his countrymen—even if he set about it the wrong way. Instead, readers have to decide how much they can like a man who gets involved in violent plots without considering the damage they might cause. Ivàn seems, if nothing else, at least terribly irresponsible.
The other protagonist, MadameDemidoff, does little better in securing the sympathy of the readers. She has many admirable qualities, including charm and a quick wit, but her position might make the audience hesitant to accept her fully. Orczy tries once again to shift the blame from her character by stating that the government compelled Madame Demidoff to work for them. This one can readily believe, but one also has to question why the woman, if she performs her service so unwillingly, is so incredibly good at it. The only thing that seems to bother her about her work is that she might get caught—and thus lose her admired place in society.
The hints of romance that surround the two opposing characters had the potential to arouse more interest in their fates—nothing makes characters more likable than the sufferings of unrequited love. Orczy, however, fails to exploit this gift. She makes one or two offhand remarks about the situation, then leaves the protagonists to focus on other affairs. Fans of The Scarlet Pimpernel cannot help but wonder how the creator of Sir Percy and Marguerite allowed such an opportunity to escape her!
The Emperor’s Candlesticks will interest fans of the Scarlet Pimpernel desirous of seeing how Orczy grew as a writer, but does not have a strong enough cast of characters or an exciting enough plot to recommend itself on its own merits.
Petra is a lover of books who particularly enjoys classics, fantasy, and swashbucklers. She blogs at Winsome Reviews, where she and her friends discuss books and films in a Catholic light.