Liberty’s Fire

Lydia Syson
"Paris, 1871. Four young people will rewrite their destinies"
Liberty’s Fire – picture

Paris, 1871. Four young people will rewrite their destinies.

Paris is in revolt. After months of siege at the hands of the Prussians, a wind of change is blowing through the city, bringing with it murmurs of a new revolution. Alone and poverty-stricken, sixteen-year-old Zéphyrine is quickly lured in by the ideals of the city’s radical new government, and she finds herself swept away by its promises of freedom, hope, equality and rights for women.

But she is about to be seduced for a second time, following a fateful encounter with a young violinist. Anatole’s passion for his music is soon swiftly matched only by his passion for this fierce and magnificent girl. He comes to believe in Zéphyrine’s new politics – but his friends are not so sure. Opera singer Marie and photographer Jules have desires of their own, and the harsh reality of life under the Commune is not quite as enticing for them as it seems to be for Anatole and Zéphyrine. And when the violent reality of revolution comes crashing down at their feet, can they face the danger together – or will they be forced to choose where their hearts really lie?

Publication Date: Thu 7 May 2015
ISBN Paperback: 9781471403675
ISBN Ebook: 9781471403682



Lydia Syson

Lydia Syson is a fifth-generation North Londoner who now lives south of the river with her partner and four children. After an early career as a BBC World Service Radio producer, she turned from the spoken to the written word, and developed an enduring obsession with history. Her PhD about poets, explorers and Timbuktu was followed by a biography of Britain's first fertility guru, DOCTOR OF LOVE: JAMES GRAHAM AND HIS CELESTIAL BED, and then two YA novels for Hot Key Books set in the Spanish Civil War (A WORLD BETWEEN US) and World War Two (THAT BURNING SUMMER). LIBERTY'S FIRE is the third of her novels to be inspired, very loosely, by family history: Lydia's anarchist great-great-grandmother moved in Communard circles in late 19th century London. Read more about Lydia and her books at or on Twitter: @lydiasyson


The first time she heard the gulls in Paris - screeching, mournful, wheeling overhead near the river or the canal - she imagined they were calling her back to Brittany. Their voices had a way of sounding human. Where she came from, they called them soul birds. Drowned sailors, like her father, or so she used to think. But the truth was that nobody was calling Zéphyrine. Her brothers might miss her a bit, and maybe the dog, but her mother and stepfather certainly didn't want her back. They'd be happy to forget she'd ever existed. It was Gran'mère who told Zéphyrine the reason why. Her father had been a sailor - that was true enough - but her mother hadn't even known his name. That was why she'd left her bastard daughter in Paris, so she could finally be rid of her shame. Gran'mère had wanted to warn her, to protect her. She was worried it would happen again. But shame was part of Zéphyrine's inheritance. What was the point now of pretending she didn't know shame already? She tugged off her cap to reveal her hair, combing out the tangles with her fingers. She let her shawl fall a little from her shoulders, and pulled open her blouse to show some flesh. Then she ducked her head and raised her arm and had a quick sniff. Could be worse. Don't think about it, she told herself, not quite believing what she was about to do, reaching inside herself for a bit of the old bravado, the spirit that made her grandmother shake her head and tut. It was hard to find. She felt so numb. Nothing mattered now except the money. Up ahead she saw a church, its curved back turned towards her: the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. It's too late for you, the building seemed to say. Too late. You're falling already. You've got nothing, and nothing to lose. Three more prostitutes passed, red petticoats flashing, ribbons at their necks. They stared right through Zéphyrine. They didn't even see her as competition. On she walked, her footsteps mechanical, without direction. She barely knew she was moving her legs. They took her towards the vast cross so recently carved from the city's ancient alleyways, towards its axis, its meeting point. Its stomach. Without realising it, she made for the biggest marketplace in France, to put herself up for sale.