Hello Humans! If you’re around in the book blog-o-sphere you’ve probably heard of today’s book, Enchantée by Gita Trelease. I personally first came across this book at YALC (young adult lit con) in July, where they were giving out samplers. I didn’t actually take one (I was very strict on ‘don’t pick it up if you’re not going to read it’ this year), but the book did stick in my mind. Something about the concept, the forbidden magic, the court politics, the false identities – it all sounded like it was going to be just what I needed.
Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…
When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.
But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns…
Possibly my favourite thing about this book was the setting. I, unfortunately, do not know enough about the court of Louis XVI or French culture during the late 18th century to speak to the historical accuracy of this book – but let’s be real, you don’t read a book about ‘la magie’ and expect it to be entirely realistic. What this book does manage to do is to capture that feeling of a world on the verge, there are bitter feelings brewing in Paris, new technology on the rise, that which has stood for such a long time is soon to be no more. I thought that this book did a great job of conveying both the glamour (in a non-magical sense) of Paris and Versailles while still showing that more seedy, grimy side of the city that is so often brushed over when we talk about Paris even today.
I have a complex relationship with Paris, I’ve been a few times and I’ve never managed to feel like I got quite the right kind of experience out of it. I have delightful memories of having baguettes on the Isle de la Cité with my best friend and terrible ones of waiting around in tourist crowds milling near the Eiffel Tower. Paris has that over romanticised feel, so much so that a lot of the beauty and the history has been subsumed by this idea of creating that ‘Parisian’ experience that ultimately ends up feeling pretty false. I’m sounding like a travel snob now, and if you love Paris that’s totally fine, but personally, I would go to Lyon any day of the week.
What was the point of that particular tangent? Purely to illustrate that this book also had that slightly false, glittery feel to it, while also having the poverty and the fear of Paris during this time. I loved that this wasn’t a ‘Paris is so wonderful, look at all the pretty dresses’ kind of a setting, but it did still have those elements.
The magic system is also worth talking about. It isn’t ever explained in any kind of exact terms but it seemed to me as though magic was focussed on the idea of changing one thing into another, the initial example being Camille turning scraps of metal into coins. It wasn’t clear whether the darker magic that Camille later gets caught up in is a different type of magic entirely or an extension of that same magic, but you definitely get the sense that magic has many different facets and can be used for good and evil. This book has the ‘standard’ ‘magic has a cost’ kind of vibe to it, which is handled fairly well, you do see Camille’s descent from the start of the book to the end.
What I appreciated was that this book does parallel the idea of addiction to magic with addiction to gambling (as well as substance addiction, but gambling is more of an obvious comparison). While Camille may begin to dabble in darker magic as a result of necessity, she isn’t just hopelessly trapped, she clearly makes the choice to keep dabbling. I liked that this story gave her that agency, it made her feel a much more developed character where she could have just been the poor orphan girl swept up by the flashing lights.
I’m read French pretty fluently (far better than I speak and write it – thank you Latin education) so found it quite easy to read the moments where characters drop into speaking French – ok they are speaking French all the time, the book is set in France, but it isn’t written in French except on a few occasions – usually exclamations such as ‘mon Dieu’ and suchlike. It would be interesting to hear from someone who read no French what their experience was. I personally didn’t feel like it flowed particularly well, and that it read more like a sudden poke to the ribs – remember we are in France *poke*- but someone else might read it differently. There is a handy glossary at the back to help readers understand some of the French terminologies in case you were worried.
Overall, I thought that this was a great example of the historical/fantasy crossover. It has pretty much everything you could ask for, sibling relationships, romance, hot air balloons, ballgowns – the whole nine. While I found some of the writing a little jarring I enjoyed the story as a whole and I think this would make a great read to round out winter, while the evenings are still dark and cold.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Enchantée comes out in the UK on February 21st, you can preorder it here if you so wish. (Affiliate link).
What say you? Will you be reading Enchantée? Let me know in the comments below!