The French Blue by Richard Wise

Historical Novel Traces The Hope Diamond

By: - Aug 10, 2010

The French Blue
An Illustrated Novel of the 17th Century
Brunswick House Press, 2010
ISBN:  978-0-9728223-6-7

The Berkshire jeweler/gem merchant Richard Wise has written a historical novel, The French Blue.   This is his second book, his first, Secrets Of The Gem Trade, a non-fiction connoisseur’s guide to gemstones, published in 2003 has been through three printings and has become something of a bestseller.

The French Blue is set in the 17th Century and recounts the adventures of a real historical character, Jean Baptiste Tavernier.  Tavernier, a French adventurer cum gem dealer made six voyages to Persia and India between 1630-1668 in search of rare diamonds, gemstones and pearls.  At the end of his sixth voyage, Tavernier sold Louis XIV a 116 carat deep blue diamond that his court jeweler fashioned into the 69 carat diamond that Mazarin named The French Blue.  The gem was stolen during the French Revolution, recut again and today we know it as The Hope Diamond. 

In writing this book, Wise, an international gem dealer himself, has not strayed far from Hemingway’s dictum to “write what you know.”   Writing in the first person, Wise demonstrates a real talent for getting inside the head of his historical colleague, Tavernier’s character, in fact, all the major characters are well developed, multi-dimensional and entirely believable.
The book is epic in scope.  The historical Tavernier traveled, by his own account, 180,000 miles over the course of his career.  He met and did business with some of the great men of the age and Wise introduces us to Shah Abbas of Persia, Louis XIV of France and Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal among others.   Along the way we also meet a lot of regular people, pearl divers, turquoise miners, gem dealers plus numerous adventurers, blaggards and scoundrels and not a few beautiful women and learn a great deal about the judging and trading of gems.  We sympathize with our hero as his one true love, Madeleine de Goisse, the charmingly unscrupulous daughter of a French Courtesan and a Persian king leads him a merry chase as she attempts to establish herself in French aristocratic society.    

The French Blue is exceptionally well researched.  Wise provides a accurate overview of the period from The politics of The Thirty Years War to the personalities of such important historical characters as Cardinals Richelieu, Mazarin and Albert Von Wallenstein.  What did French aristocrats eat in the 17th Century and what did they eat with?  Not with forks! The French Blue is filled with the small details of the history, culture and mores of France, Persia and India that are so dear to the hearts of devotees of the historical fiction genre.  For those who want more detail, Wise has included an Afterword and the publisher has provided a website; that includes a image, a historical timeline and a very interesting article detailing the later history of The Hope Diamond.

At 588 pages The French Blue is a weighty tome.   There are many potential pitfalls for a first time novelist in covering so ambitious a subject, but Wise manages to avoid them all.   The characters sparkle, the descriptions evoke and the book moves along at a good clip.  The illustrations, many from the hand of Tavernier himself, depicting some of the famous gems he encountered are a plus. 

The French Blue is a charming, sweeping picaresque novel filled with forty years of adventure and romance, plots, battles, love affairs and derring do.  Wise has shown himself to be a gifted writer.  The French Blue is a must read for those who love romance, adventure in a sweeping authentic historical setting.