This follow-up to Anne Newton Walther's A Time for Treason: A Novel of the American Revolution picks up the story of French heroine Eugénie Devereux fourteen years later during the French Revolution. In Loss of Innocence, the glamorous countess is caught between her sympathy and support for the revolution's cause, and the love and loyalty she feels for the king and queen. With her American beau, shipper Bridger Goodrich, she takes part in an attempt to break Marie Antoinette out of prison and abscond with her to the safety of America, where a town named Azilum had been built on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania expressly for the purpose of harboring the queen.
Of course, Walther reveals Marie Antoinette's fate in the Prologue, so it is known right from the start what becomes of this risky and daring attempt to save her (scholars of the French Revolution will, of course, already know this even before reading the book). But even so, Loss of Innocence covers a unique and little-known aspect of this period in France's history.
The focus on the novel, however, is on Eugénie and her employees who work and live at her chateau in Bordeaux. While they help in any way they can to provide for the hungry and poor people who live around them, they also have to do their best to survive under increasingly dangerous circumstances, with mounting anger against the nobility being targeted at the chateau. She sends her most trusted employee, Jeremy, to Paris on many occasions to keep her informed of the events going on there. Meanwhile, she must confront many dangers on her own in order to maintain the safety of her estate and its inhabitants. Eugénie proves to be anything but a damsel in distress.
The characters in Loss of Innocence are very well developed. While Eugénie is fictional, Bridger Goodrich is not, and neither are several of the other characters who make an appearance in the novel. And interestingly, the novel presents Marie Antoinette as a sympathetic figure, even likeable, which is contrary to much of the literature about the French Revolution. Walther writes a neutral third-person narration that can see the good and bad of both sides of the revolution.
The problem with the novel, unless you have an intense interest in this time period, is that there are a lot of political discussions and lengthy explanations of events. The plot is jam-packed with action, to the point where the novel is hard to follow at times, particularly if you are not well-schooled in the events of the revolution. Also, the pacing is inconsistent. Certain events seem to drag on, while others go quickly. But Walther's depiction of the turmoil and insanity of this time period is consistent with what is printed in the history books.
If you are a Francophile or someone with an appreciation for historical fiction, particularly during this period, Loss of Innocence is certainly worth a read. However, you might consider reading A Time for Treason first. Walther includes some of the backstory here, so that Loss of Innocence stands on its own, but I probably would've appreciated this novel more if I had read the first part of Eugénie Devereux's adventures.