by James Tipton HarperCollins, HK$120 Annette Vallon had a child by English poet William Wordsworth while he was visiting France at the time of the French Revolution. Not a great deal is known about the Frenchwoman, which allows scope for James Tipton's imagination in this fine debut novel, which portrays her relationship with Wordsworth but also shows the consequences of the revolution in the Loire Valley. By focusing on this zone rather than Paris, Tipton can readily trace the revolution's impact on individuals, such as certain tolerant well-off rural folk who are unjustly killed as aristocratic counter-revolutionaries. This happens to relatives of Vallon, an attractive and courageous tomboy who refuses an arranged marriage. She sympathises with the old order of society but falls in love with young, blond Wordsworth, who reaches the Loire after a journey from England to the Italian side of the Alps. Not yet famous, he is an idealist, enamoured of nature and Vallon, and convinced the revolution will mean a new world of justice, equality and brotherhood. Wordsworth's initial enthusiasm for the revolution enables Tipton to highlight the poet's disillusion with its Jacobin faction, led by the 'incorruptible' Robespierre, which swiftly begins to punish even its allies and install a reign of terror. In this atmosphere the foreigner Wordsworth is suspect. He flees to England, leaving Vallon pregnant with their daughter Caroline. Vallon becomes a key figure in the clandestine resistance, providing a safe house for those fleeing to the anti-revolutionary zones of Normandy and Brittany. Vallon is the protagonist of several adventures such as freeing refugees from a dungeon and from a prison ship, and ensnaring a rent collector for money to aid her cause. But the novel is saved from cloak-and-dagger kitsch because Vallon is credible as a Frenchwoman who believes in passion but knows its limits. She sees the qualities of her English lover to whom she remains faithful during the years when their only contact is the rare letters that manage to travel between their warring nations. The onset of peace enables Wordsworth (below) to return to France, to Vallon and eight-year-old Caroline. In the intervening years he has lived close to his sister Dorothy, who wanted to save him and his poetry from Vallon. The tough-minded but tender-hearted Vallon accepts that the circumstances have changed, that Wordsworth will marry an English-woman, but her love lingers. Tipton suggests the truncation of her relationship with Wordsworth damages his poetry, of which a little too much is quoted. He has difficulty in fusing this aspect of the novel with the adventure episodes, but succeeds in portraying an appealing character in a tragic era.