The French Blue
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, son of a cartographer, sails the world searching for high-quality gems to sell to wealthy Frenchmen. He travels as far as Persia and India in his quest for pearls, rubies and diamonds. His talent for finding the finest gems enables him to match wits with many of the world’s most powerful men, including Shah Jahan in India and Cardinal Richelieu in Paris. But life isn’t just luxury in palaces - Tavernier must also survive war, pirate attacks and long treks across the desert. On one of his voyages, he’s given the opportunity to buy a huge blue diamond, one of the rarest stones in the world. In time the stone would be re-cut and the world would know it as The Hope Diamond, but during the reign of King Louis XIV, it was known simply as the French Blue.
Tavernier’s extraordinary life and travels make for one fascinating, exciting novel. Tavernier has a lot of balls, to put it bluntly, and is willing to brazen through almost any situation to get what he wants. His travels give him a fairly open mind; compared to many of his contemporaries he’s pretty open-minded about religion and culture. He’s definitely a man of his time, though, and author Richard Wise was careful not to “sanitize” Tavernier’s opinions, many of which were pulled directly from Tavernier’s own account of his travels, published in the 1670s.
Wise is an international gem dealer, so he spends a great deal of time on Tavernier’s trade. I was worried it would be technical and difficult to follow, but it’s actually quite easy to understand. I learned a lot about how gems are graded and what determines their value, as well as the techniques used in the 17th century to harvest them. Another cool thing about the book was Wise’s inclusion of Tavernier’s own sketches of the gems he bought and sold; these and other illustrations really helped me visualize Tavernier’s travels. Don’t you miss illustrations in books? Publishers used to always include engravings, even in adult novels…I wonder why that stopped.
One minor quibble I had with the book was that as I was reading, I came across several grammar errors, usually involving improperly-placed quotation marks, and one sentence that was cut-off halfway through. It’s such a beautiful hardcover book otherwise.
The French Blue is a fun adventure novel that I really enjoyed. I flew through its pages, and hated putting the book down. Wise’s enthusiasm for his subject comes through in every page, bringing vitality to the narrative that I can’t remember experiencing much lately.
It’s well worth reading – check it out!
4.5 out of 5 stars
The Hope Diamond as it is today