I see a YA book with a French title, I want.
ICYMI, I speak French (mad skillzz mwahaha) so just the title and cover intrigued me and then to find out that it’s a historical fantasy based in 18th Century Paris? Um yes, sign me up. So yeah, I really enjoyed this book. Read on for my review 🙂
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…
“It’s hard to stop gambling, and even harder to stay away, if you’re a magician…I’m guessing your dress is the same – those threads of magic grasp at us like tiny hands, or fish hooks. It is very difficult to tear yourself loose.”
– Gita Trelease
Boy, I found a handful of quotes to tab in this book (yes, I’ve made tabbing a habit now and wow, has it changed my life for the better!), it was really hard to find just one to highlight in this review.
I’m going to start off with how this book is set because this is a historical fantasy YA novel (but don’t discount it so easily – I know historical fantasies aren’t always popular). This book just had great world-building in general. It is set in such an interesting era, based in 18th Century France in the build-up to one of the most important events in world history that incurred a great deal of change – the French Revolution. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t study French Revolution History in high school so I knew nil about this subject and you don’t need to know much about it either!
A basic summary of it is that it was a revolution by the people because there was a great divide between people being very poor and very rich – there was basically hardly anyone in the middle class. The rich lived extremely extravagantly and the poor suffered a lot and the story of this novel takes place as unrest starts to really show among the people of France because of this huge contrast in quality of life. This bit of history was incorporated and told so well in this book that it’s a topic I personally really want to learn more about now.
Gita Trelease set the scene and the world the main characters live in perfectly for both sides, as Camille the main character experiences both living in poverty and living among the very rich courtiers of France who spend their days gambling in Versailles.
More so than just the world-building in terms of location, Gita wove fantasy into reality so nicely as we learn about the intricate magic system in Enchantée. For those who don’t know what Enchantée means, by the way, it’s generally used as a way to say “Pleased to meet you”/”Delighted”. Her magic system involves the ability to for magic to change things from metal to oneself in exchange for a price, a price that is sorrow. I thought this was such a brilliant idea and such an emotional one where Camille and other characters must dig deep within themselves and feel such horrible and extensive lengths of emotion like sorrow.
Our protagonist, Camille, is introduced to us as the eldest sister in an orphaned family forced to turn bits of metal into fake coins to look after her younger sister as her older brother is an abusive alcoholic and addicted to the promise of gambling with no actual luck or strategy at winning whatsoever. Her unfortunate circumstances give her a deep well of sorrow that she begins to use when she teaches herself how to ‘turn’ and change cards for gambling card games such as blackjack and when she finds an enchanted dress that lets her disguise herself as an aristocrat with better hopes of gambling among other aristocrats and winning real money. Of course, all this magic has a price. While the plot of the book may seem quite simple and what I’ve seen others call weak, I thought that this novel had a much deeper meaning and actually really delves into themes of greed and addiction. Camille starts her journey wanting to create a better life for her sister and herself but magic and gambling are similar to each other in that it brings up the question; when is it going to be enough?
Camille herself was a strong character and I liked her attitude, her personality and I could really empathise with all the decisions she made in this book. Her love interest, Lazare was also such a sweet character and brought some real mystery into the story. Their involvement with what was a turning point in technology in their time such as the industrial movement of printing presses and hot air balloons was endearing and lovely to read, especially from our standing point of view where smartphones and touch screens are now the norms in society.
Lazare was a great character that also brought diversity and had us reading about his experiences as a character struggling to place and hold his identity as a biracial man with his status, his family and among others in society. The side characters introduced in this novel such as Camille’s sister Sophie and the few aristocratic friends (and enemies) Camille made also had interesting character developments and well-rounded backstories.
Another thing I hope isn’t a spoiler is that I thoroughly enjoyed was how well the fantasy was deep-rooted into fact to the point of explaining the decaying and crumbling palaces of Versailles, which in real life would be from lack of upkeep and general erosion, but it written in this story of one as a magic charm simply wearing away. Simple things like this throughout the book just made things so much more feasible and showed some great planning, research and writing for it. Gita’s writing was great and eloquent, with a nice flow that made it easy enough to read despite the formal language of 18th Century France.
Be aware that throughout the book, there is a lot of actual French (as in the language – which was a bit of a surprise) and it may seem a bit jarring. As someone who is fluent in French already, it wasn’t as hard to read or understand, but that may differ for others who don’t like or find it frustrating reading other languages they can’t understand and/or having to flip to the back’s glossary constantly to find out what something means if it’s not explained straight after(basically me when reading any high fantasy novel that has like 3 elvish languages or something).
This book did have some parts where it seemed just a little slow and I wish had gone a little faster as well. Although that and the language thing was a bit annoying for me, I still found it that this book, in general, was a great read. I loved the urban fantasy within the historical setting, and especially the dark, thought-provoking and deep concepts Gita explored with the plot and Camille’s character development.
I would definitely recommend it, and I can’t wait for you guys to read the Author Interview I conducted when it publishes tomorrow (!!!). Look out for your post notification or my Instagram to check it out once it goes live. It was an absolute pleasure to do this, a huge thank you to Macmillan Australia for this opportunity and for sending me a copy of Enchantée in exchange for an honest review as well.
Are you a fan of historical fantasy? If you’ve read it, what did you think of Enchantée?
Until next time,