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Reviewed by Saifunnissa Hassam for Readers' Favorite
Jules Larimore's The Muse of Freedom is a well-crafted historical novel, a coming-of-age story of Jehan BonDurant, a young French nobleman. Larimore has drawn inspiration from the 17th-century historical figure of his ancestor Jean Pierre Bondurant dit Cougoussac, a French Huguenot. The Muse of Freedom is set in the late 17th century in the Cévennes Mountains in southern France when French Protestants suffered extreme persecution by the Catholic church. Jehan BonDurant's Huguenot family refuses to convert to Catholicism. When Jehan is six, he is taken forcibly to the Dominican priory, where he grows up as a Catholic. The novel begins in 1695 when Jehan turns 18, and is free to leave the priory but must remain a Catholic. Jehan returns to his family's estate and becomes an apothecary, following the family tradition of physicians and medics. In his travels in the Cévennes region, he meets Amelia Auvrey, who teaches him ancient healing practices. Amelia believes in the freedom of the conscience in spiritual beliefs and becomes Jehan's guide in his spiritual quest. The story turns more complex as religious intolerance intensifies under the Catholic King Louis XIV.
I enjoyed reading Jules Larimore's The Muse of Freedom because of its compelling characters, the young French noble Jehan BonDurant, and his muse, Amelia Auvrey. I became absorbed by the thought-provoking themes of religious freedom, love and loyalty, incredible fortitude, and courage in the face of persecution. Jehan BonDurant's coming-of-age journey is expressed in powerful ways as he discovers the world outside the Dominican priory and witnesses horrific religious persecutions led by King Louis XIV’s Intendant Basville. I also liked the challenges Jehan faces as he learns about his Huguenot family's history, legacy, and responsibilities. Jehan's travels through the Cevennes region brought him in touch with people of different religious beliefs and outlooks. The other characters added great depth to the story through strong interpersonal dynamics between individuals, families, and communities. I enjoyed the character of Jehan's muse, Amelia Auvrey - her curiosity about nature, her extensive reading, and how she helps Jehan in his spiritual quest. I loved the worldbuilding of the Cevennes region, the evocative descriptions of its geography, its biodiversity, its different peoples, religions, and cultures. Jules Larimore's The Muse of Freedom is a gripping historical fiction novel, with great characters; a novel about religious turmoil and persecution, a story of unflinching courage, determination, and hope.