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Steve Gnatz
The Wisdom of the Flock
Steve Gnatz, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Publish)

1776: Benjamin Franklin travels to Paris, a copy of the Declaration of Independence secured in his trunk. His charge: gain the support of France for the unfolding American revolution. Yet Paris is a city of distractions. Ben’s lover, Marianne Davies, will soon arrive and he yearns to rekindle his relationship with the beautiful musician. But Dr. Franz Mesmer has plans for Marianne too. He has taken Parisian society by storm with his discovery of magnétisme animale, a mysterious force claimed to heal the sick. Marianne is key to his success. A skeptical King Louis XVI appoints Ben to head a commission investigating the astonishing magnétisme animale. By nature, Ben requires proof. Can he prove that magnétisme animale does not exist? Will Mesmer stop at nothing to protect his claim? The Wisdom of The Flock examines the conflict between science and mysticism in a time rife with revolution, love, spies, and intrigue.
In this blend of 18th-century romance and mystery, Gnatz playfully reimagines Benjamin Franklin as part spy, part scientist, part patriot, and all lothario.The year is 1776 and Benjamin Franklin has been sent by the newly declared United States Congress to serve as the unofficial ambassador to France. Recently widowed and with his grandsons in tow, Franklin arrives in the city hoping to rekindle his relationship with performer Marianne Davies. But a new fad, mesmerism, has hit Paris, and claimed Marianne as a major disciple. Franklin’s personal and political plans are derailed when he is placed in charge of determining whether Franz Mesmer really has the powers he claims.

Fans of revolutionary history will find much to love in this adventure, including cameos by figures such as Pierre Beaumarchais, Marie Antoinette, and Pierre Cabanis. Though clearly a work of fiction, the novel captures a real-life event: Benjamin Franklin’s commission from Louis XIV to determine the science behind Mesmer’s theory of “animal magnetism.” Franklin’s reputation as a lover is equally historically accurate, though readers may have a hard time separating the historical image of Franklin as a wise, corpulent, goutish statesman from Gnatz’s characterization of a well-muscled and sexually vigorous grandfather. This dissonance is increased by occasional use of modern terms, such as Marianne and Marie Antoinette discussing how to “contract and relax your pelvic muscles” to encourage a lover.

With a bit of imagination, Gnatz keeps his audience hooked on this fast-paced quest that takes place at the dawn of two revolutions. A helpful bibliography and brief biographical sketches of major characters are sure to please history buffs. The narrative mixes historical drama with romantic fantasy and a heavy dash of occult intrigue that will whet readers’ appetites for the next entry in the series.

Takeaway: Romance and mystery fans will enjoy this exciting reimagining of Benjamin Franklin diving into Parisian love triangles, political machinations, and psychic powers.

Great for fans of Jeff Shaara, Bernard Cornwell.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A-
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A-