Robert Merle. The Brethren. London: Pushkin Press, 2015. Fortunes of France, Bk. 1. 416p. tr. from French by T. Jefferson Kline. ISBN 978-1-7822-7123-9. $14.95 Paperback. Fiction

In the mid-16th century, Jean de Siorac and his companion Jean de Sauveterre, veterans of the Norman legion, return to the Périgord region of France where they set up a community in the recently purchased Chateau of Mespech. Siorac and his wife, Isabelle de Caumont, soon have a family— François, a feckless lad; Pierre, the stalwart narrator of this tale; their half-brother, Samson, slow to act but nevertheless brave; and various females, relegated to a lesser roles. They are soon joined by other soldiers and various relatives, all determined to survive in a time of recurrent famine, plague, religious conflict between Huguenots (French Protestants) and Catholics, evil barons, and mercurial town folk. VERDICT Before his death in 2004, French author Merle published 13 books in his historical fiction series, "Fortunes of France." This volume, first published in France in 1977, marks his U.S. debut. While compared favorably to Alexandre Dumas by British reviewers, Merle lacks both the swashbuckling brio found in The Three Musketeers or Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouche and the expansive grandeur of Ken Follett’s medieval epics. What Merle does well, however, is integrate into a tale of family life, a host of intriguing factual details that in the end make this a very enjoyable read.

Library Journal, 140, no. 2 (February 1, 2015), pp. 74-75.

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