Monday, January 2, 2012

The Hangman in the Mirror by Kate Cayley

The Hangman in the Mirror
Kate Cayley

Grade: C-

Description from

Françoise Laurent has never had an easy life. The only surviving child of a destitute washerwoman and wayward soldier, she must rely only on herself to get by. When her parents die suddenly from the smallpox ravishing New France, Françoise sees it as a chance to escape the life she thought she was trapped in.
Seizing her newfound opportunity, Françoise takes a job as an aide to the wife of a wealthy fur trader. The poverty-ridden world she knew transforms into a strange new world full of privilege and fine things -- and of never having to beg for food. But Françoise's relationships with the other servants in Madame Pommereau's house are tenuous, and Madame Pommereau isn't an easy woman to work for. When Françoise is caught stealing a pair of her mistress's beautiful gloves, she faces a future even worse than she could have imagined: thrown in jail, she is sentenced to death by hanging. Once again, Françoise is left to her own devices to survive . . . Is she cunning enough to convince the prisoner in the cell beside her to become the hangman and marry her, which, by law, is the only thing that could save her life?
Based on an actual story and filled with illuminating historical detail, The Hangman in the Mirror transports readers to the harsh landscape of a new land that is filled with even harsher class divisions and injustices.
My thoughts on the book:
Let me just start out by saying that I love the cover, and the synopsis sounded interesting. I love historical fiction, and it's obvious that Cayley did her research. However, none of the characters were likable, and I down right hated Francoise. She is manipulative and brash, not to mention delusional. She wanted to become a lady, so once she was a servant, she began to act like one. That blew my mind. In that time period, that just did not happen. She should know that since she lived in that period. She treated those around her horribly and simply used everyone to try and make her way. 
The research aspect was spot on. The quality if living for Francoise's family, and later her rich employer, were both true to life. I also like that this book didn't follow an aristocrat like many historical fiction books do. This novel told the story of an incredibly impoverished girl trying to make her life better, and if she had been the least bit likable, I would have respected and rooted for her. However, by the end of the novel, I was wanting her to hang. The only thing that saved this book from a D or F rating is the fact that Cayley is a talented writer and it's obvious that she did a lot of research for this project. Her language was fitting to the time period and wasn't overly modern. It takes me out of the story when someone uses modern colloquialisms in a period piece, so I'm glad Cayley didn't do that. 
Writing style aside, I'm a big character person, so the fact that I couldn't relate to, or like, Francoise made it impossible for me to enjoy this book. I would have much preferred someone who was a nice, caring character, and had just been dealt a rough hand. That would have made for a better story, in my opinion. Her parents were horrible as well. Her mother was an ex-prostitute and a drunk, and her father was a gambling drunk. The rest of the secondary characters didn't even feel like people. Just two-dimensional stereotypes. The only character that was tolerable was Jean, and I feel like he's an idiot because he believed Francoise and chose to marry and save her. I would have liked to have seen more of Jean because he's not even in the book really until halfway through. 
If you're not a big character person, or if you like your main characters INCREDIBLY flawed, then you'll adore this book. It's not lacking with writing style or research. The characters just got under my skin, which made me not enjoy the novel as much as I could have. I would read another piece by Cayley, however, because she is a fantastic writer. 
Want to buy The Hangman in the Mirror


  1. Where is New France, is this a made up place or is it someplace like Haiti? Sounds riveting; too bad the heroine was not likeable!


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