Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran is a perfect illustration of this.
The book opens in 1788 Paris, where Marie Grosholtz (she ain't Tussaud yet) is doing what all smart businesswoman before and since have done. She's conspiring to drum up publicity. She pulls strings and soon the royal family is visiting her Uncle's Salon de Cire, where Marie's amazing wax sculptures of famous (and infamous!) figures are on display. It's through this visit that Marie's work catches the eye of King Louis XVI's sister, Princess Elisabeth. She wants Marie to tutor her, and so she shall. Even though there are grumblings and unrest in the streets, an affiliation with the royal family will mean more prestige and more money for the Salon de Cire.
However, the fortunes of France are swiftly turning. Bad weather and bad harvests have left people desperate and hungry. Soon there is revolution, and with it, comes chaos. Men who demolish the monarchy, with promises of better things, instead bring tyranny, unspeakable violence, and turmoil. In the midst of it all is Marie, straddling two worlds. One as a favored tutor to a member of the royal family, and the other as a member of her Uncle's household where he hosts revolutionaries like Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and Marat in a weekly salon. As her Uncle says during the course of this story, they are neither revolutionaries or royalists - they are survivalists. And that is exactly what Marie does - she survives, and in spectacular fashion.
I'm a pretty typical American - which is to say what I know about the French Revolution can be summed up in how it relates to American history. The French supported us during our Revolution (admittedly because it pissed the Brits off to do so), and when their own Revolution happened, we left them to it. Partly because we still had problems of our own (starting up a new government takes some time - who knew?) and partly because we ended up horrified by the turn of events. Revolution beget Terror, Terror beget the guillotine, with tens of thousands of people dying. It was anarchy. It was chaos on a very grand scale.
Moran does an exceptional job of bringing that chaos to life. The story of the Revolution is told through the eyes of the author's fictional depiction of Marie Grosholtz, the enormous trials she faced, and what she had to do to keep herself, and her family, intact. What she loses, what she gives up, and ultimately how she triumphs through it all make for one hell of a story. This was one kick-ass woman. A woman ahead of her time. A woman who, once she becomes a Madame, was smart enough to get it in writing that what was hers was still hers and not her husband's (how she managed to pull this off the author does not explain, but seriously? You go girl! We're talking the 18th century folks! The 18th century and the chick had a pre-nup!).
I'm not doing this story justice. I suspect some readers may find the ending a bit rushed given the careful unfolding of the first half of the story, and the romance readers among you will probably not be happy about a pivotal decision Marie makes (but hey, the author can't tweak that much history), but I don't have the heart to quibble. I was too riveted. This is a big departure for Moran, whose previous three books were all set in ancient Egypt, and here she captures a slice, a turbulent moment, in world history. Because let us not forget, the Revolution beget Napoleon as well.
Grade = A