Goodreads: I Will Repay
Series: The Scarlet Pimpernel #3
Ten years ago Juliette Marny swore an oath to avenge the death of her brother upon Paul Déroulède, the man who killed him. The outbreak of the French Revolution now provides her with the perfect opportunity to denounce Déroulède and send him to the guillotine. But can she really revenge herself upon a man she has come to love?
I Will Repay is the second book written by Baroness Orczy in the Scarlet Pimpernel series, though the third chronologically. It delivers all the melodrama and romance of the original while managing to feel fresh; Orczy chooses wisely in removing the focus from the Pimpernel to completely new characters, though of course the beloved Sir Percy makes a guest appearance. Never particularly suspenseful or even serious (despite attempts to depict the terror and frenzy of the French Revolution in what may strike some as overwrought prose), I Will Repay rewards those able to enjoy a sometimes cheesy romance/action adventure for what it is–pure entertainment.
Despite being the kind of book that some might call a guilty pleasure, however, I Will Repay also contains what I consider a trademark of Orczy’s writing–a sharp insight into human nature and the crazy things people sometimes do. Sir Percy’s exploits are thus only secondary to the plot, and those looking for a real swashbuckler may find themselves disappointed. Instead, the focus remains on Juliette as she struggles to reconcile her perceived duty to fulfill her oat with her sense that her oath is wrong, even evil. Orczy dwells a bit too much perhaps on Juliette’s Catholicism, making it seem as if her religion makes her some sort of fanatic, but she does an excellent job addressing the real conflict Juliette feels and the confusion her actions leave behind. After all, if she loves a man, how can she hurt him? Humans are messy, the book seems to say, but you have to take people as they are.
Does the book still contain contrived plot elements, stereotyped characters, and character descriptions we now find politically incorrect and even offensive? Indeed it does and though readers may overlook the first two elements, they may recoil at Déroulède’s dislike of accepting help from a woman or at the depiction of Déroulède’s cousin (born with a crooked spine, she now lives in his household as a dependent/servant and hopelessly devotes her life and love to him). Even knowing that Orczy wrote in a different time, it is not easy to forgive such elements and I found myself sometimes troubled by what I read. After all, if Orczy was capable of providing Déroulède’s cousin with so much depth and emotion, why did she have to leave her with such a horrid ending? And does this cousin’s character stem from her appearance or would Orczy have depicted her as equally naive, jealous, and infatuated if she her back were straight? Such questions continued to nag at me long after I had closed the pages.
And yet I cannot help but admit that I enjoyed the rest of the book. Contrived, melodramatic, and yet full of passion, it swept me along in a fun adventure that made me feel I was right there along with the Scarlet Pimpernel and his merry band. The story never tries to be anything more than it is and I can appreciate that. I needed something light to give me a respite from the more serious reading I was doing and I Will Repay gave me just that.
*This post is part of the Year of Re-Reading Challenge being hosted by Lianne at Caffeinated Life.