Nemesis and the Swan
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Release Date: October 27th 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Fiction, France
From her prison cell in revolutionary Paris, nineteen-year-old aristocrat Hélène d’Aubign recalls the events that led her to choose between following in her parents’ unforgivable footsteps or abandoning the man she loves.
Despite her world of privilege, Hélène is inspired early on by the radical ideas of her progressive governess. Though her family tries to intervene, the seeds of revolution have already been planted in Hélène’s heart, as are the seeds of love from an unlikely friendship with a young jeweler’s apprentice. Hélène’s determination to find true love is as revolutionary as her attempt to unravel the truth behind a chilling set of eye-shaped brooches and the concealed murder that tore her family apart.
As violence erupts in Paris, Hélène is forced into hiding with her estranged family, where the tangled secrets of their past become entwined with her own. When she finally returns to the blood-stained streets of Paris, she finds everything-and everyone-very much changed. In a city where alliances shift overnight, no one knows who to trust.
Faced with looming war, the mystery of her family’s past, and the man she loves near death, Hélène will soon will find out if doing one wrong thing will make everything right, or if it will simply push her closer to the guillotine.
About the Author
Lindsay Bandy writes historical and contemporary young adult fiction as well as poetry. She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with her husband, two daughters, and two cats, and currently serves as the co–regional advisor of the Eastern Pennsylvania region of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
On Cake and Privilege
You know the whole “Let them eat cake” thing that Marie Antoinette supposedly said? Well, historians agree: There’s no evidence that those words actually escaped her lips. So how did it become her most famous “quote?” Because the reality of privilege is nothing new!
As John M. Cunningham explains on Britannica online,
As it happens, folklore scholars have found similar tales in other parts of the world, although the details differ from one version to another. In a tale collected in 16th-century Germany, for instance, a noblewoman wonders why the hungry poor don’t simply eat Krosem (a sweet bread). Essentially, stories of rulers or aristocrats oblivious to their privileges are popular and widespread legends.
So let’s set the scene for Marie Antoinette: It’s the 1780s. France is in crisis. There isn’t enough grain. Starving Parisians wait in bakery lines for HOURS hoping to bring home a precious loaf for their families, only to be turned away. Prices skyrocket. Taxes increase—but not for the nobility. Children starve and freeze to death in the streets while the occupants of Versailles toss leftovers on the floor for the maids and dogs to clean up. Before the Revolution forced her to pay attention, Marie Antoinette seems to have been oblivious to the plight of her people because she was too busy playing dress-up in her life-sized dollhouse. She was comfortable enough that she didn’t have to pay attention to the suffering of others. So, whether or not she ever said those words, she was, in effect, living them.
Privilege is nothing new, but it’s nothing old, either. We may not have literal entitlement in the form of ducs, marquis, or princesses in modern-day America, but there is no shortage of privilege here. Jamie Beth Cohen, the author of Wasted Pretty and a Jewish friend of mine, recently wrote,
“If you hadn’t heard of the Proud Boys until last night (the first presidential debate), maybe consider how privilege works…it’s not your FAULT you haven’t heard of them, but it MAY be your privilege that you haven’t felt the need to track all groups that may want you dead.”
Acknowledging privilege can come with a certain amount of defensiveness, and the desire to shout: It’s not my fault! But being born into privilege doesn’t automatically equal guilt. The truth is, France’s broken system wasn’t Marie Antoinette’s fault. If we take a step back from the drama of her later years, we see a fourteen-year-old Austrian girl married off to an awkward, gluttonous, and clumsy teenaged French prince. On the journey from Austria to France, she was stripped of her Austrian clothes in a tent and handed over to the French naked and crying. As the fifteenth child of the Empress Maria-Theresa, her education had been neglected. No one asked her if she wanted to leave her homeland to become the future queen of a country already brewing with troubles. None of those things were her fault, BUT as she came of age and into the role of queen, she had a choice to focus inward or outward. The choice to selfishly ignore her people’s suffering was, indeed, her fault!
When there is a call to change—whether it’s the tocsin of Revolution or the strained last words of George Floyd, the privileged have a decision to make: Are we going to selfishly fight to keep our privileges and delude ourselves that we somehow deserve more than other humans? The monarchy and nobility of the late 1700s refused to acknowledge systemic problems or step out of their literal comfort zones to change them, and it was their ruin.
Today, we’re faced with the same choice, but we have the benefit of learning from the past. In “Story,” screenwriter Robert McKee says authors of historical fiction must “…use the past as a clear glass through which you show us the present,” and I hope that Nemesis and the Swan will do just that. The future has yet to be written. It’s up to us to write it well!