The Fan-Maker's Inquisition: A Novel of the Marquis de Sade - A Goodreads friend highly recommended Rikki Ducornet’s novel, The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition. Having never previously read Ducornet’s works, I find that she writes very luscious, provocative prose, which seems especially fitting as the subtitle of the book is A Novel of the Marquis de Sade. Partly, it’s a historical fiction novel based around a fan-maker (of scandalous fans, writings, friendships, & liasions) being tried during the Reign of Terror while also weaving a tale of an earlier reign of terror, that of ">Bishop Landa’s Inquisition & autos-da-fé of Mayans in the 1500s. Ducornet excels with her alternating transcripts of the court proceedings, personal letters, and various documents used to tell the overlapping stories. Her skillful hand exposes the irony, hypocrisy, and zealotry that drive humans to various extremes – acts from destroying different cultures, destroying individuals, destroying minds – whether done by groups or people on the outside or whether the decay begins from within. It takes an adroit author to create simultaneous plotlines that cover different time periods, while entwining the similar threads of the undoing of both men & civilizations. We certainly repeat the past, don’t we?

{Note: Some spoilers ahead…}

I especially liked Ducornet’s parallels between Bishop Landa’s destruction of Mayan books/knowledge & the Reign of Terror’s destruction of materials deemed inappropriate. Censorship & fanaticism are timeless topics & this book gave a somewhat lesser-known historical look at topics that still haunt us today. (Looking up Bishop Landa, I found irony in the fact that while he destroyed so much knowledge, he also was one of the most knowledgeable about Mayan learning & his notes & information are still being used today to help decipher the Mayan language.) These are not the only parallels that shine through the text; the topics may be rooted in the past yet are so relevant to each other as well as to today.

On a small side note, I enjoyed the fan-maker descriptions because fans had prominence in a different book ([b:The Stockholm Octavo|13142835|The Stockholm Octavo|Karen Engelmann||18320064]) I read earlier this year. And, the Marquis also figured in another historical fiction I read set during the French Revolution, [b:Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution|8689913|Madame Tussaud A Novel of the French Revolution|Michelle Moran||13562354]. Certainly, the Marquis de Sade is a notorious figure, but after reading so much about the Reign of Terror, I imagine it must have been an incredible feat for anyone to stay sane during those times, especially if imprisoned for years, some of the time within seeing/hearing distance of the guillotine during its daily use surrounded by baying crowds.

{End of spoilers.}

Historical fiction that’s both exquisite & sharp, while pointing out issues that plague society today, especially if you’re concerned with freedom of speech/expression & censorship – what more can you ask for in a novel? The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition provides some savory fodder for discussions & pondering -- & perhaps the dream of learning & growing from our past. Highly recommended. 4.5 stars.

"What are books but tangible dreams? What is reading if it is not dreaming? The best books cause us to dream; the rest are not worth reading." – Rikki Ducornet, The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition