Sally Gardner’s young adult novel The Red Necklace
(2007) is historical fiction set during the aftermath of the 1789 French Revolution. Slightly obscuring without totally glossing over the brutally repressive period of the early days of the Reign of Terror, the novel follows the adventures of a teenage Gypsy boy and his attempts to rescue the somewhat hapless daughter of a bankrupt nobleman from the clutches of an evil man intent on marrying her. The plot is fast-paced and includes both staged magic and actual supernatural powers that eventually enable the teenager to overcome his enemies.
It is 1789, and fourteen-year-old Yann Margoza, an orphaned Gypsy, works in the Théâtre du Temple in Paris, run by the magician Topolain. Yann, a skilled illusionist, ventriloquist, and psychic, has some telepathic powers as well. He has been with the theater since his mother was murdered in his early childhood, raised by Têtu, a telekinetic dwarf who also performs there. Topolain’s magic, Yann’s telepathy, and Têtu’s telekinesis are all part of a magic system the novel calls “the threads of light.”
The three are invited to perform in the castle of the Marquis de Villeduval, a foolish and selfish nobleman who has nearly bankrupted himself in the pursuit of pleasure. While there, they run into the villainous Count Kalliovski, a creepy and manipulative nobleman who seems to have some past connection to the magicians. Yann’s future-seeing reveals a disturbing premonition, but before the magicians can escape, Count Kalliovski tampers with one of their stage tricks and murders Topolain. While Yann and Têtu are hiding, Yann meets and immediately falls in love with Sido, the abused and neglected daughter of the Marquis. After their near-miss escape, Têtu demands that Yann leave the country and hide out in London – his life is in serious danger. Count Kalliovski, also a Gypsy, murdered Yann’s mother, Anis, after she refused to marry him. He killed Topolain because Topolain accidentally revealed that he recognized him.
In London, Yann is taken in by Henry and Juliette Laxton, Sido’s maternal aunt and uncle. Although they are kind, he is miserable, homesick, and worried about Sido. He has a chance encounter with an out of work actor, Mr. Trippen, who becomes his tutor. He also meets the Coopers, a Gypsy family who teaches him how to control and use the threads of light through a magical talisman.
Back in Paris, the revolution is well underway, and all noble families are now in extreme danger of being killed. The Marquis finds out that he is now completely bankrupt, leaving him under the thumb of Count Kalliovski. The Count offers the Marquis a way out of his debts – Kalliovski will forgive what is owed if he can marry Sido. Against her wishes, and against his own misgivings, the Marquis agrees.
Sido overhears Madame Perrien, a family friend, begging the Marquis for a loan – Madame Perrien also owes a large debt to the Count and is terrified of him. The half-insane Marquis refuses to lend her money and also refuses to listen to anything bad she has to say about the Count. A little while later, Madame Perrien is found murdered with a necklace of red garnets strung on a thin red ribbon around her neck – the Count’s murderous signature. Undone by her death and by the fact that his home is being overrun by a revolutionary mob, the Marquis is driven entirely insane. He and Sido barely escape the rampaging crowd with their lives.
When news of the violence reaches London, the Lennoxes agree to let Yann go back to Paris to save Sido. They hope he can bring Sido back to London, where they will care for her as a daughter in a way her father never has. In Paris, Yann reunites with Têtu, who is proud of Yann’s new threads of light abilities. He tells Yann the truth about Anis’s murder, and that Kalliovski is a Gypsy with his own magical skills – another kind of telekinesis called “threads of darkness.”
Yann finds Sido in her hiding place, but she refuses to leave behind her now completely helpless father to flee to London. After Yann leaves her, he learns that the Marquis had called off Sido’s engagement to Kalliovski. However, when Yann tries to find Sido to tell her this, he is too late: Kalliovski’s thugs have already captured Sido and the Marquis and thrown them in prison. Yann offers to break Sido out of prison and smuggle her out of Paris, but again, she refuses to leave her raving father, and Yann is thrown out of the prison. Kalliovski arrives threatening to rape Sido.
The Marquis’s lawyer reveals to Yann and Têtu that Sido is not the daughter of the Marquis. Her mother, Isabelle, was the lover of the Marquis’s half-brother, Armand. In a fit of jealousy, the Marquis had Count Kalliovski murder both Isabelle and Armand and kept Sido as a daughter whom he could abuse and mistreat in revenge. Using this new information, Yann and Têtu come up with a plan. While Kalliovski is distracted at the theater, Yann breaks into his apartment, coming upon a grim scene. Kalliovski has been collecting the body parts of his victims and using them to build automatons called the Sisters Macabre to keep all of his secrets, which he can operate using the threads of darkness. Using his own magic to make the automatons talk, Yann finds inside one of them the love letters of Sido’s real parents and a “Book of Tears” that tracks everyone who owes Kalliovski money.
At the theater, Kalliovski suddenly pieces together that he is Yann’s father. Enraged, he kidnaps Sido, who has only just been released from prison after being found innocent of anti-revolutionary crimes. Rescuing her from Kalliovski’s carriage, Yann secures her passage to London. Heartbreakingly, he decides to stay behind in Paris to help other members of the nobility who have been targeted by Kalliovski. The novel ends on a cliffhanger
as the Count escapes the encounter, vowing revenge. The story is picked up in the novel’s sequel, The Silver Blade