Hearts at Dawn by Alysa Salzberg
“She finally found a book that looked promising. It might explain what she had seen, what Monsieur Rush really was.“
Hearts at Dawn by Alysa Salzberg is a magical retelling of the beloved Beauty and the Beast, adapted to a historical fiction account of the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Since he was twelve years old, American Aristicrat Orin Rush has been cursed with a night-time enchantment; he physically transforms into a horrible beast while maintaining his human thoughts and actions. In her regret, the enchantress attempts to communicate the cure for the curse “Give your heart to another and have their heart. Love and truly be loved” through a madwoman but it only comes out as “a human heart is the cure” without any explanation. By his mid-twenties he and his family have exhausted every avenue of finding this cryptic cure in America, so he and his younger half-brother move to Paris in hopes of finding answers. While his brother takes up residence in a posh hotel, Orin leases a top floor apartment in a sparsely occupied building; a building whose residents include Claire Turin, and her photography studio. Since the sudden passing of her parents, Claire has successfully continued the business even while withdrawing into her own little world. Neither of them expects the magical connection that their meeting ignites and both find rational reasons to resist its entwining effects. However, the start of the war with Prussia and subsequent siege of the Paris initiates not only a change in their day to day lives but a change to their lonely hearts.
Hearts at Dawn is a flowing drama which submerses you in the sites and sounds of an event, that is rarely written about in historical fiction outside of France, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of late 1800’s Parisians in the midst of war. The Franco-Prussian war and siege of Paris is deftly intertwined with Salzburg’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, played out through the romance of Orin and Claire. While the characters and story have some similarities to the original fairy tale, they are significantly different in their interpersonal progression, personality details, and ending. I have fairly high expectations when an author chooses to write an adaptation and I was impressed that instead of trying to follow the original plot, Alysa incorporates little details that tie her adaptation with the traditional version: books, magic, roses and vines, pictures, and family. Its a wonderfully creative touch that subtly reminds you that this is an adaptation but allows it to be its own unique story. Hearts at Dawn is an endearing read that will captivate your attention, intrigue your mind, and entertain readers of all ages.