Sidonie and Madame Guillotine

Sidonie de Villeduval is Yann Margoza’s love interest in the historical fantasy The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner. When she was very young, Sido was in a carriage accident which killed her mother and left her with a badly broken leg. Ever since she has walked with a limp. She is treated terribly by her father, mostly because she is a girl and is crippled, but also for mysterious reasons the reader learns toward the end of the book.

At first it seems like Gardner commits the cardinal sin of having a character who does nothing through the whole book: Sido lets the story happen to her as if she were no more than an observer. This can almost be overlooked since Sido is not the main protagonist, but a significant reason to read fiction is to read about characters that see, do, and think things that we never will. Even if a character is quiet or shy, they should still bring something unique, surprising, or larger than life to the story. If those qualities are only found in their thoughts, that still says something interesting about the character.

It’s so easy to let a disabled character just sit on the sidelines, lending nothing but their presence to the story, and I was worried that this was Sido’s destiny. She takes very little action throughout the novel. Mostly she sits in her room like she’s told, she says what she is expected to say, and because of the distant point of view, we don’t really see what she is thinking.

I relate to characters that are vibrant and swashbuckling, the ones that wear a sword on their hip and wield magic. They call to me, probably because I’ll never wield anything more deadly than a butter knife. However, this meek and mild girl grew on me, and toward the end, I realized that her quiet strength and resilience were the crowning points of her character. She lives through some of the bloodiest days of the French Revolution, as all other nobles are hunted and killed. Her survival is a coincidence, but to me, Sido is heroic simply for facing her imprisonment, trial, and truncated execution with dignity and courage. When the streets of Paris run with blood and madness, Sido walks out with her head still on her shoulders.

Perhaps it is her disability that gives her the strength to press on through the howling mob. She’s certainly had to live with the pain and humiliation of her father’s censure for her whole life. Now, I’ve never had someone hate me for the way I walk, but in my own past experiences I can see the seed of these reactions. And like Sido, these experiences have strengthened me.

There are other things about Sido’s disability that struck a cord with me. Things like how she tries to hide her limp, walking as slowly and smoothly as she can. Or how she loses that highly prized grace when she’s nervous. I can relate to that. I once put my crutch down on a rolling chair while in a lab practical and ended up on my butt on the floor. I sustained nothing more than a couple bruises, but my pride took a huge blow that day.

Something that I thought was missing from the book was Yann’s reaction to Sido’s disability. He never mentions it. Ever. It seems like he doesn’t even notice it, which may be the point, but I wanted to see some honest conversation about how Yann felt about it. I feel the least disabled around my husband. He makes me feel like I can do anything and it seems like he hardly even notices my disability anymore. However, I know that it affects him and it’s not healthy to ignore it. I got the impression that Yann was supposed to be looking past Sido’s disability, and that’s sweet. But the fact that he didn’t mention it at all seems unrealistic.

I have plenty more to say about this book so check out the full review.

1 Comment

Filed under Characters

One Response to Sidonie and Madame Guillotine

  1. Jo

    A heroine who is quiet, shy and can’t help herself IS interesting, in a world where we just get the same boring, cliche, “strong independent womyn” who magically kick butt (when in reality they could never do that) characters like Katniss, Hermione, Ygritte, Merida, etc. over and over again. Why do characters ‘need’ to “do” anything? She can’t.

    also-

    “I relate to characters that are vibrant and swashbuckling, the ones that wear a sword on their hip and wield magic. They call to me, probably because I’ll never wield anything more deadly than a butter knife.”

    sorry to be nitpicky but if you aren’t like them, how do you relate to them?

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