My New Novel – The Light Beyond the Dust
When it comes to writing, I have two weaknesses: steampunk and historical fiction, and I try as much as possible to integrate the second in the first. This is why Laevium is set in Victorian London – albeit an alternate one.
However, writing historical fiction is a completely different matter, and the amount of poetic license and liberties allowed is considerably less than in regular fiction. This means that one must understand both their characters, and the historical context in which those characters lived – which is usually an extremely difficult task, especially when it comes to events as complex as the French Revolution.
This is why, regardless of how much I wanted to start working on my historical fiction book, I thought it was a good idea to wait until I was truly prepared for such an endeavor. And, after so many years, I have finally decided to begin drafting it. The historical novel I have always wanted to write now has a title, and a timeline. It will be called The Light Beyond the Dust; it will be set during the French Revolution; its main character will be Louis Antoine de Saint-Just; and it will be released in 2023 (the exact date might change), after I finish my current trilogy (The Cerulean Airship).
Why I Chose Saint-Just
When I was 15, during the summer vacation, I happened to find a Larousse encyclopedic dictionary in our public library. I opened it randomly at the page about Saint-Just (the information was accompanied by his famous portrait by David – my favorite portrait of him is Prud’hon’s, but I digress). It was fascination at first sight. 25 years have passed since then (and I’ve read countless books and articles about him during this time), but the fascination remained the same.
As in the case of many historical figures and events, there are several approaches (and camps) when it comes to Saint-Just. Some historians consider him a hero and a patriot, while others see him only as a bloodthirsty tyrant and a psychopath. There are plenty of assumptions, personal opinions presented as facts, and even wild fabrications about his life. It took me years to go through the existing literature about Saint-Just and choose the research materials to base my novel on, especially since even established historians are in contradiction when it comes to certain events in his life.
In the end, from all the books, articles, and biographies (more or less biased) I’ve read, I chose to follow the line of thought of Albert Ollivier (Saint-Just et la Force des Choses) and Bernard Vinot (Saint-Just), because their works are (in my opinion) the least biased and the best researched of all. However, these two historians are in contradiction regarding a few important things. For those, I chose to follow the version that seemed the most accurate. Of course, another great help were the digitized documents (historical archives from late 18th century), and the articles made publicly available by the National Library of France, The National Archives of France, the Archives départementales de l’Aisne, and the Institut d’histoire de la Révolution française (to quote just a few). And, of course, the last piece of the research puzzle was Saint-Just’s own work.
What I avoid like plague: those fan-fiction style blog posts that (surprisingly though) seem to be all over the internet. Many of them are downright outrageous, and lack not only basic research, but also common sense. Same goes for some totally twisted interpretations of him I’ve seen in some Japanese anime and manga (in Rose of Versailles he is depicted as a psycho who is randomly killing nobles in pre-revolutionary Paris. WTF? That is so far from the truth, I can’t even…)
Facts and Fiction
Disclaimer: while thoroughly researched and based on real facts, events, and persons, my novel The Light Beyond the Dust is ultimately a work of fiction, and NOT a biography. This means that it will have a plot/a story, my own additions (scenes and dialogues) and interpretations, and a novel structure. I will write it in the third person, with three points of view (the main one will be, obviously, Saint-Just’s, the second will be a woman’s – those who know a few things about his life might have already guessed who -, and the third point of view will be of one of Saint-Just’s closest friends from Blérancourt). This will be particularly challenging, because for two of them there aren’t many documents or information left. However, the plot will be based on facts, on research, and on his most unbiased biographies. Which means I will completely discard the wild baseless nonsense circulating on the web about him.
Inspired from one of Saint-Just’s most famous quotes: Je méprise cette poussière qui me compose et qui vous parle; on pourra la persécuter et faire mourir cette poussière! Mais je défie qu’on m’arrache cette vie indépendante que je me suis donnée dans les siècles et dans les cieux.
Post cover photo: pistol belonging to Saint-Just, in the collections of Musée Carnavalet. The photo was taken by my friend Ayashige during one of our visits in Paris.