5 February 2019 – Macmillan Children’s Books
ARC received in exchange for an honest review – thank you!
This book was BEAUTIFUL. The writing was lush without being stifling, the heroine was flawed without being unlikeable… honestly my gripes with this one are very minor.
This one has a very fulsome blurb. 17-year-old Camille Durbonne is dealing with an alcoholic, abusive older brother and an ill younger sister, Sophie, so she needs all the money she can get. So far the family have just been using la magie ordinaire, little magic: it can turn scrap metal into coins for just long enough to push them onto unsuspecting vendors. But they can’t do this forever, because all the shopkeepers in their neighbourhood are wising up. The next step is to use glamoire, a bigger magic, which can disguise not petty objects but people.
There’s just one problem. Magic always has its price. The petty magic uses sorrow and tears to fuel itself; glamoire uses sorrow and blood. But Camille has no choice, so she’s disguised herself as their ancestress Cécile, Baroness de la Fontaine and taken herself to Versailles. There she uses la magie ordinaire to win card games by cheating. I loved Camille’s no-nonsense attitude here. A lot of YA heroines you see are burdened by scruples, but not Camille. (Okay, I sound like a total criminal right now, but honestly, I love the unrepentant bad-girl heroines). She has a problem, and by God, she’s going to get herself out of it. There’s no squeamishness – quite refreshing.
But when she gets to Versailles she discovers she’s not the only cheater there – or even the only magician. She falls into a friendship with the aristocrats Chandon, his lover Foudriard, their friend Aurélie… and the Vicomte de Séguin, a dangerous, unpredictable young man. Incidentally, for anyone who’s read Les Liaisons Dangereuses, I could see the influence of the Vicomte de Valmont very clearly in Seguin. And I’m not just pulling that out of nowhere – Liaisons is actually referenced in the book!
Seguin is a fascinating villain, charming and utterly opaque. I did knock a star off my rating because of him, though – one of his crucial actions at the end of the book seemed nothing like his character whatsoever, it felt very deus ex machina.
But the sisterly bond between Camille and Sophie was nicely done. Camille’s not a perfect sibling; there were many times I wanted to scream at her for not showing more care about Sophie’s whereabouts and actions. I mean, this is Paris, 1789! She needs to look after her! But Camille’s kind of like one of those people who think they need to work more, earn just a little more money, and then their family will love them more – not realising it’s them the family loves, not the money. It doesn’t help that gambling holds an allure which Camille is not immune to.
The romance was pretty cute. Slightly fast, perhaps, but I loved how it was complicated by all manner of disguises (and not just on Camille’s part). The setting was, mostly, very well realised. I sat a three-hour exam on the whole French Revolution a few months ago, so it’s still very fresh in my mind, and I do think Trelease has captured the dizzy atmosphere of Versailles well.
In short, this is a strong debut (if not perfect, especially at the end).