Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities

(Okay, so the first thing you should know is that my favourite photo editing site has crashed for the time being. Thus there is no proper blog header for today’s post. Moving on).

This is the first Dickens novel I’ve ever read (except for an abridged version of A Christmas Carol, which was, in that particular case, so abridged that it probably didn’t even count as Dickens anymore). I feel like I chose the wrong book, because I’d always lived under the impression that Charles Dickens handled things like starving orphans with some humour. And I also had no idea that A Tale of Two Cities was about the French Revolution either, because the only exposure to it I had ever had was in a Veggietales movie which I believed was based off it (correct me if I’m wrong, because I have the feeling I might be. Do you know the one with the pots and the shoes and the toy wind up lobster? Okay, I’ll stop rambling now).

Any how, I wasn’t expecting to like this that much. But, oh my goodness, was I wrong. It has easily been my favourite read of the year (I know that’s a generous statement, since we aren’t even two weeks into the year yet). However, I found it astounding and I’m eager to let you all know why it is an amazing read and why you all must go out and read it right now, if you haven’t already.

First of all:

~The Plot~

The plot was very good, complex (occasionally too complex. There were a few instances that I fell asleep or dozed off during my audio book. This wasn’t the fault of the book, I was just tired and the man had a nice voice. But then I’d wake up and the whole world would be coming down and I wouldn’t know why.) and riveting. Once I got through the first half, which dragged on a bit, everything happened so fast and I literally didn’t want to stop reading.

There were a few points where I thought it was lacking, such as why Darnay and Carton’s similar appearance saved Darnay from being hanged and got him acquitted. I might have missed something there. I also wondered what happened to Gabelle at the end. A huge deal was made of his imprisonment, and then it just vanished. Leaving me confused. Other than those two particular plot points, it was top-notch.

~The Characters~

The characters were also brilliant and I loved the work that was put into each and every one of them. I loved how they were all so different and unique, even the side characters. Except for Lucie Manette. I don’t know what happened there, but she seemed to suffer when everyone else was so fleshed out and well-rounded and she was just sort of flat. I started off feeling nothing at all for Carton, but he slowly grew on me. it was quite a way from the end that I worked out how things would go for him, and by the point that I predicted, I loved him. I’m still not entirely sure why he did what he did. Obviously, out of love for Lucie, but we see him at the start of the book and then at the end, as two entirely different people. What happened in the middle to cause that sudden shift? Madame Defarge is one of the best antagonists I’ve ever read too, I really enjoyed her character.


~The Themes~ 

I enjoyed the themes too. I liked the fact that they weren’t general or overdone themes (though even books with overdone themes can incredibly powerful). A Tale of Two Cities raised questions like ‘When does justice become vengeance?’, which I found interesting. Whilst Monsieur and Madame Defarge are both working towards the same goal—revolution—they have different motives. Monsieur Defarge wants justice, and Madame Defarge wants vengeance.

The theme of resurrection and being ‘recalled to life’ was also different and captivating. And of course, probably the most notable theme is that of self-sacrifice. Most of the characters make sacrifice which affects the plot and those around them, these are sometimes small and sometimes large, with Sydney Carton making the ultimate self-sacrifice.

~The Writing~

After reading other people’s reviews of A Tale of Two Cities, it seems like the writing is the main turn off. I agree to some extent. I read a lot of classics and I don’t really mind the long descriptions and tangents off into some topic which has little to do with the story, but on occasions I did find Dickens’ writing hard to understand. He used a lot more symbolism than other writers I’ve read. For example, there’s a very long section when he describes the lifestyle of “Monseigneur”. I thought this referred specifically to the Marquis de Evremonde, but it actually referred to the collective aristocrats of France.

Just for your knowledge, I listened to exactly the first half as an audiobook, and then my lending time on the audiobook ran out, so the other half I read as an actual book. I found it much easier to understand the symbolic writing in the book format, because I often drift off, as already mentioned, during audiobooks. I don’t fall asleep when reading. It took me most of the audiobook to work out what Dickens meant to be taken literally, and what wasn’t meant to be taken literally. Once I’d worked that out, I was less confused and I began to enjoy his unique style.



Overall, I absolutely loved this story and it’s become one of my favourites. Once I read The End, I literally wanted to go back and start it all over again. It was undoubtedly the best book I’ve read since Les Miserables. Even if you don’t usually read classics, I would suggest this one to you, because it is, underneath it all, a story of hope, love, forgiveness and justice. And it’s a powerful read.




24 thoughts on “Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

  1. My dad recommended Tale of Two Cities to me because of my love for Les Misérables. I read Tale of Cities and really enjoyed it, but never could figure out why I loved the book at all. I remember reading and getting mixed up between Paris and London and not being able to figure out who the main character was. I actually attempted to finish it in just one Christmas Break and actually finished it. I feel like I need to reread this book to figure out why I loved this book

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  2. Great review! I read this book for school several years ago, and I definitely found the first half slow and hard to understand. But things really picked up in the second half!
    Concerning Lucie, yes, she was rather underdeveloped. Unfortunately this is a running theme with Dickens. He rarely gets women right. When he does they are brilliant but otherwise they are painfully boring. He also tends to be better at female antagonists, (like Madame Defarge and Miss Havisham) rather than female protagonists.
    I have read several Dickens novels, and though A Tale of Two Cities is by no means the longest, it was the most difficult to read for some reason. I feel like it is somewhat different from Dickens’ usual style, giving more emphasis to the historical context and slightly less to the characters. I think it might be because his other books were contemporaries (in his own time of course) and A Tale of Two Cities was historical? I am not sure. I thought it was really good though, and I am glad that you liked it!

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  3. I’ve loved this book for a really long time and I’m glad that you liked it as well! It really is such a great story. I understand what you mean about Lucie being not very fleshed out–I felt that too. And I’m glad that I’m not the only one a little confused about Sydney and Charles looking similar getting him off the hook! Some of those little things in the plot get sorted out in the musical (in the musical, Sydney had gotten Barsad to admit that he was going to frame Charles while they were at a tavern. When Sydney stood up at the trial, Barsad dropped all charges against Charles, knowing that Sydney had evidence against him). Sydney’s character is honestly one of my favorites of all time. His change of character is truly magnificent and that ending always makes me cry!

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  4. Good on you Chel for reading all these classics! I have read, probably abridged, Oliver Twist and a super, super short verison of Great Expectations…. There are good stories. I do love the themes as well and the purpose, in Oliver Twist showing the suffering, showing how society and people can end up so messed up, how tragic it is (vague as I read the book so long ago).
    But the themes raised in this book sounds interesting and different and good to explore like the comparison of vengeance and justice.
    Good on you Chel for reading it!! Do you have some more great books planned?

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  5. I admit, I haven’t read a lot of classics, which I probably should. So thank you for such a thorough review that’s easy enough to understand for the simple folks such as myself, haha. It’s interesting reading reviews on books that didn’t just come out 2 weeks ago! (also, omg VeggieTales, mega flashback!!)

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  6. ah yes, ‘Are You My Neighbor?’ with the towns of Jibertylou and Flibertylot (I think that’s how you spell the names?). I was just remembering that Veggietales episode recently. although I did forget about the lobster…

    and A Tale of Two Cities is one of my favorite novels EVER. EVER. and Sydney Carton is undoubtedly my favorite character ever. I’m so glad I found someone else who loves him as much as I do! at first, I was like, ‘I don’t like this guy, he’s really messed up and I’m kinda disgusted’ and then I pitied him and then I was head over heels for him. he’s just amazing ❤️

    and I agree with your opinion on Lucie. in general I feel that most classical authors don’t do female characters very well. this may have nothing to do with the author’s portrayal of women, but I find that I don’t usually like female characters in classics, for example, the main love interest in Ivanhoe (I can’t remember her name), Alice from the Last of the Mohicans, and (please don’t hate me for this) Cosette from Les Mis. authors whose female characters I actually enjoyed were Jane Austen (haha surprising that she would write good female characters), Robert Louis Stevenson, and Alexandre Dumas (the masterpiece that is the Count of Monte Cristo, anyone?).

    anyways, I’ll stop rambling. I’m so happy that you liked A Tale of Two Cities! ❤️

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  7. Oh, I love classics, and I have been wanting to read A Tale of Two Cities for a while! Now I REALLY need to after seeing this post! =D

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  8. Yeah, the first half was definitely slow, but it helped me to understand the second half better, I think, and get a good feel for the writing style and the characters.
    I was a bit confused as to why Dickens could create such an interesting character in Madame Defarge and yet Lucie could be so dull! I guess a lot of women at the time were portrayed the way Lucie is, so it’s fairly typical.
    Yes, I have heard that Dickens only wrote two historical novels and A Tale of Two Cities was one of them, and I haven’t read any of his others yet, but I get the impression that there’s a lot less humour in it than in some of his others, and I do think that he was focussing more on the event and how that affected the lives of the characters, rather than the characters themselves.
    Thanks for commenting 😀

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  9. Yes! The themes were SO well done. I found them super interesting and engaging. By the time I got to the last quarter of the book, I literally didn’t want to put it down 😀


  10. When I talked to my mum about it, she said they probably wouldn’t be able to convict Charles since he looked so similar to Sydney, meaning that there was no way they could prove it wasn’t someone else (or even Sydney), and so Barsad’s accusations fell apart. Still, the musical version seems to make more sense in that regard 🙂
    Yes, that ending was just…*sniffles* The Seamstress too, 🙂 She was so sweet and I loved her a lot. I just wished that she’d appeared before those last few pages 🙂


  11. I’m hoping to read Oliver Twist and Great Expectations soon. I’m really looking forward to some more of Dickens.
    Yes, the comparing and contrasting of justice and vengeance was definitely interesting to look at, I enjoyed the different approach.
    Yes I do! Thanks for commenting, you’re so sweet 😀


  12. Definitely! Classics aren’t for everyone though, I do not believe in shaming bookworms that don’t read them 🙂 I know, there’s so many reviews for all the latest reviews. Let’s just step back and review the 150 year old ones, why don’t we?
    Veggietales made up my childhood 😀


  13. I just wrote a beautifully eloquent comment in reply to yours and for whatever reason WordPress deleted it. So, let me just say that I agree with everything you’ve said.
    I’ve always wanted a pet wind up lobster 😀
    Sydney definitely was disgusting at the beginning, but I don’t think he was meant to be likable until the very moment when you realise what he’s going to do, and then you fall in love with him. He is an amazingly written character.
    Yes, Cosette and Lucie are definitely in the same boat. I think the reason that most people (including myself, unfortunately) like Eponine better than Cosette is because she is a much better written character, more complex and interesting. I think the classical authors just liked to exaggerate everything they saw the perfect woman being, coming up with these boring, unreliable angels. That is my only complaint against Dickens. 😀
    Thanks for commenting!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Your mom’s explanation does make quite a bit of sense! All the same, it’s kind of a weird way to win a case!
    Yes! The Seamstress girl is just about my favorite! She just breaks my heart!

    Liked by 1 person

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