Paris at First Light is the second book in Amanda Lees’ ‘World War II Resistance’ series, but can be read as a standalone. The series is dedicated to telling the stories of fearless female secret agents and their experiences of courage, endurance, love and loss.
Set in 1944, Paris at First Light follows Juliette, a Parisian-born secret agent tasked with a dangerous mission that could change the course of the Second World War. Working for The Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France, Juliette fled to London with her mother and two young children to protect them from the brutality of the Nazis and the threat of her abusive husband, Philippe. After the liberation of Paris, Juliette continued to covertly fight for her country, joining ‘The Network’: an unground operative group focused on preventing the Nazis from winning the war.
After ‘The Network’ uncovers a Nazi plot that risks the lives of Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower, Juliette is sent back to Paris with American agent Daniel Diaz. As she re-enters her life as a Parisian woman, and reconnects with the abusive family she has fought so hard to protect her children from, Juliette finds love and hope in new people and familiar places. But when Juliette’s children and mother are kidnapped, she faces the heart-breaking realisation that she must let go of one love to save another.
Amanda Lees’ portrayal of Juliette’s dilemma was heart-wrenching, and shows the difficult choices that so many women had to make in wartime circumstances, as well as their strength in self-sacrifice. Juliette represents the courage and fortitude of so many women who covertly fought for France during the Second World War, and who often go unrecognised. Faced with the agony of choosing whether to fight for duty and an ideal or to fight for love and her children, Juliette instead chooses both: fighting with both her head and heart to protect what matters most to her.
Juliette is not the only strong female character in this novel: we see glimpses of the experiences of two other members of ‘The Network’, Marianne and Christine. Whilst Juliette returns to Paris for her mission, Marianne infiltrates a German POW camp to sabotage a break-out attempt, and Christine must seduce a fascist to uncover his secrets. The strength of these women and their seemingly limitless courage in the face of adversity is inspiring and heart-breaking in equal measure.
Amanda Lees masterfully crafts beautiful scenes that bring to life wartime Parisian landscapes and architecture. Her writing allows the reader to walk alongside Juliette and see the world through her eyes, while Lees’ descriptions of smell facilitate a special connection between Juliette and the reader: lavender is used as a powerful tool to evoke memories of Juliette’s childhood.
Paris at First Light is ultimately a story of fighting for home and hope. Filled with love, loss, betrayal and bravery, this book is most aptly summarised by protagonist Juliette herself: ‘There was only love, duty and pain. All mixed together’.
Ella Beales is a Historical Researcher, Archivist and Public Historian, currently in postgraduate study at the University of Bristol.