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01 August 2017

In the Reign of Terror Audio Drama {Crew Review}

In the Reign of Terror

For this review, we were listened to In the Reign of Terror, and audio drama by Heirloom Audio Productions on CD, which is an adaptation of G.A. Henty's book In the Reign of Terrorm, and the downloadable study guide that goes with it.

The story is gripping. I didn't realize it at first, but this is not our first story from G.A. Henty. So far, I've really enjoyed all of his works -- and making it an audio drama, where they've gone a step further than just reading the story, and given it a sound track and audio effects, just really enhances the story. The characters, each portrayed by a different actor or actress, really come to life. The English sound English, and the French characters sound French. That actually made us work at understanding, particularly at first, because the French accent has always been one that's a little bit difficult for me to follow, and it's pretty thick at times. But our ears adapted, and we were able to follow without serious issues. The story is about 16 year old Harry Sandwith, who in the months just prior to the reign of terror, is engaged to be a companion to the five children of the Marquis de St Caux, and live with them in their country home some miles outside of Paris. Harry's family feels that, even if there is unrest due to the revolutionaries, it is unlikely to touch the home of the Marquis, but of course the revolution becomes both more widespread and more violent than anybody predicted, and Harry gets caught up in quite the adventure.

The recording is beautiful. The sound track is lovely -- both the music and also the various noises that they use to bring it to life. You can see the kind of attention to detail they put into sounds of all sorts in the clip they include on their "Who We Are" page, where they show how they collect the authentic sound of a door handle in a church for another title, In Freedom's Cause. In the Reign of Terror sounds like it's had that same attention to detail and high level of excellence as well.

I don't want to give away too much of the story, because I think you're going to love it, but of course things turn far more violent than the Marquis or anybody else anticipated at the outset. Harry has just enough time to learn some French and get comfortable with the family, and then things get crazy as the revolution picks up its pace. There are mobs, the Marquis rushes off to fight for the king. There is heroism in many places, betrayal, rescue -- at one point Harry even ends up briefly working as Robespierre's personal secretary!

Henty has included in his story a number of points of commentary that bring out the substantial differences between the French Revolution and the American Revolution, which I really appreciated because it made it really easy to have a series of conversations about the differences, and while, while the one was a noble thing that actually brought freedom to a nation, the other used noble verbage but descended into worse tyranny than what the existing rulers had exercised. As one character puts it, "It is not égalité, equality, the canaille -- that is, the common people, desire, but a reversal of roles." In the Reign of Terror starts with a bit of an introduction, where these ideas are given voice by Henty himself: "The difference was in their hearts. The difference was their attitude toward God."

In addition to the audio drama itself, we were also given a study guide, which is beautiful and extensive: 43 pages. The study guide is available through their Live The Adventure site. It starts out with some interesting background on G.A. Henty, and on a few of the key players in the French Revolution.

The study guide includes a lot of comprehension questions -- they have some for every chapter, if you are so inclined. We listened to this the way that we would a read aloud: no comprehension questions, and I didn't ask for narrations, but just let the discussion happen organically, which it did. If we had used it as a school book, I would have spread it out over a number of weeks, perhaps even a month or two, and we would have made greater use of the extension activities in the study guide. It's full of extra information: definitions of French words, and information boxes that help to paint a more complete picture of what it was like in France in that time, and the sharp contrast between the privilege and privation that existed.

There are two sets of questions for each chapter. The first are just basic comprehension questions, covering the sorts of things that we usually cover in narrations. But the second are really thought-provoking questions that could be discussion topics, or a jumping off point for writing papers for older students.

One thing that I particularly appreciate is that the questions both encourage the student to consider the story in relation to scripture and the gospel, but they are worded in a way nearly completely nondenominational, and while a one or two questions do suggest a total depravity/original sin perspective, it would be a very simple thing to adapt these questions to reflect the LDS understanding of the nature of man, which rejects original sin or holding children responsible for the crimes of parents, and embraces the inherent goodness that is implied by the Biblical assertion that we are the children of God. The study guide also encourages students to consider some of the great questions in government, relating to the purposes of government, what good governance looks like, and highlights the way that pretty rhetoric can disguise ugly intentions and deeds.

We had enough other stuff use of all the resources, but there is a lot of good stuff in the study guide, and you could use In the Reign of Terror and its study guide to do a really in-depth study of the differences between the American Revolution (which the introduction suggests shouldn't even really be called a revolution, but instead ought to be thought of as a "War for Independence") and the French Revolution, and a stepping stone to some great conversations about a host of important topics. And the study guide is written in a way that encourages you to consider things in light of what scripture teaches on the matter.

The story itself is great, and the study materials are outstanding. My first grader enjoyed the story, my fifth grader and I had some good conversations, and you could probably use this study guide with high schoolers for papers and discussions on a wide variety of important topics.

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