Author: Kat Dunn
Narrator: Flora Montgomery
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Camille and Ada talk about topics other than men.
Content Warnings: Violence, death, execution, human experimentation (including mentions of experimentation during pregnancy), drug use, alcoholism, child abuse, homophobia, addiction, torture
I had an ARC for Dangerous Remedy last year, but it expired before I could read it, and then I tried on Kindle Unlimited, but same problem! I was really excited for it though, as a found family squad saving people from execution in the French Revolution sounded right up my street, so I finally picked up the audiobook this year. Sadly, I was sorely disappointed with the book in the end, it was so fast-paced that it felt rushed, the characters were flat and poorly developed and the found family vibes disappointed me because I felt like half the characters didn’t even like each other! Here is a short synopsis of the book:
Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?
In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.
We’re starting off once again with our old friend: PACING. Will there be a day where I ever don’t talk about this issue? Probably not. However, in a rare turn for me, the problem with this book wasn’t actually slow pacing, instead it was overly fast pacing. Yes, this can also be an issue, though I’ve found it much rarer than too slow books. In this one however, the story was moving along so quickly, it almost felt rushed, like the author was rushing to get from one exciting event to another and not stopping to take a breath before moving onto the next thing. This is vital because the slower moments in a book are usually where the characters have time to develop and it felt like that was really missing here. The fast pace also made the plot difficult to follow as it felt like it was constantly trying to keep up!
It also kind of felt like we were dropped in on the middle of things, without really knowing what’s going on, it almost felt like this book really needed a prequel with the events of earlier on in the revolution!
The characters felt flat to me, which was almost certainly a result of the pacing. I didn’t feel like I knew anything more about the characters at the end of the book than I did at the start and I didn’t feel like I connected to any of them. The author gave each of them a few personality traits, and then barely developed them beyond that, we don’t get any sense of their motivations, their desires, fears, anything beyond the surface level. It’s so hard to connect to characters when you feel you like you barely know them, and this automatically put me on the back foot with this book, because I just couldn’t bring myself my care much about any of them!
Al was the only one of the group who seemed to have much personality, granted I’m always a sucker for the snarky kid, but him being cast out by his family, and his family being up for execution because they’re aristocrats, I did feel genuine emotion from him, which was surprising for a character clearly designated to be the comic relief of the book.
I really didn’t like the narrator at all. I kind of wish they’d picked someone French to read the audiobook, or at least someone who could do a French accent (though perhaps that’s unfair, I don’t know if Flora Montgomery can do a French accent, maybe they decided to go with an English accent to appeal more to an American audience, which…….yeah we won’t dive into that can of worms). But anyway, it really took me out of the story to hear all these supposedly French characters speaking with English accents. Yes, I know that we hear characters in French settings in films speaking with American or British accents all the time, but it just felt different in audiobook form, I guess because I’m used to characters generally having the “correct” accent for the setting!
The narrator also didn’t differentiate between characters’ voices much at all, so it was hard to tell who was speaking at what point. I also particularly hated the voice she did for Olympe, she sounded like she constantly had a sore throat and it was very grating to listen to.
It was really hard for me to believe that the Battalion was the best at what they do when absolutely every plan they have in this book goes completely wrong. I mean I get it, you want to create drama, and that’s not there if everything goes to plan but I feel like we needed to see at least one of their plans go right to believe that they weren’t completely incompetent!
We have a f/f relationship between our two narrators Ada and Camille, and whilst I really did appreciate seeing an established relationship in a YA book and loved seeing a f/f couple as the lead characters in a fantasy novel, I didn’t like Ada and Camille’s actual relationship. They seemed so ill-suited to each other, all they ever seemed to do was argue & they seemed much happier apart than together. There wasn’t much about them together that seemed to suggest they loved each other (obviously they said it, but in their actions) and so I found it hard to root for them as they barely seemed to root for each other.
The writing definitely seemed geared more towards a younger audience than the intended YA readers, it was very simple, that’s not to say that it’s a bad thing, but just that it didn’t feel like a YA book to me. However the dialogue was at least fun and there was some great banter between the characters, so that did somewhat redeem it for me.
I usually really like action packed books, but the action felt super repetitive here, we were stuck in a cycle of action sequence, plotting at the safe house, action sequence. It was one of those books where there was just so much action that it stopped being exciting.
I did appreciate the diversity of the cast of the characters, 3 of the main characters were LGBTQ+ and 2 were POC which was great to see. However Dunn does fall into the potentially harmful promiscuous bisexual trope with Camille by having her cheat on Ada with former fiance James.
I’d have liked there to be a bit more development of the historical context, as the book seemed to assume a lot of knowledge of the French Revolution on the readers’ part, and though I studied History at Uni, the French Revolution wasn’t part of my degree and I probably don’t have much more knowledge than the average reader. Even the fact that the French Republican calendar was used in some of the chapter headings assumes a certain level of knowledge. If Dunn had developed the historical context a bit more, I think the story would have been easier to follow.
There were also a fair few historical inaccuracies like Germany and Belgium being referred to as countries, when Germany didn’t become a unified country until 1871 and Belgium was still part of the Netherlands at this point, so referring to them as countries is just plain wrong at the point in history that the book covers, which I think was about 1793.
I also wish we’d been able to see more than just a few different locations, as I think that would have really helped develop the setting of revolutionary France. We mostly move between the group’s various safe houses, and a few other select locations, but I didn’t feel like I got a very good sense of what revolutionary France looked or felt like.
The fantastical elements were fairly light which I was a bit disappointed by, as it was advertised as a fantasy but felt more like a historical with light fantastical elements. The main thing that could have been improved was more exploration of Olympe and her powers since they were the main fantastical elements, but I’d have liked it to be more fantasy heavy in general.
Camille has some sort of lung disease, she has difficulty breathing, coughs a lot and is mentioned as coughing up blood at some point, I assume this is meant to be tuberculosis, but it’s never confirmed in the book.
I was really hoping for more from the squad aspect of this book, as I’d seen comparisons to Six of Crows and the Dregs is one of my favourite friendship groups of all time. But they barely even seemed to like each other most of the time and I didn’t feel any real camaraderie between any of the members of the group. I felt like Camille and Al’s friendship/rivalry had the biggest potential to be really interesting if it had been developed more given that the two have fairly similar family histories (albeit on different sides of the revolution).
I wish we’d had POVs from Al and Guille too, as I think that would have helped flesh them out a bit more.
I was kind of annoyed that I only really started to get invested in the story towards the end, because the end really made me want to read the second book but I don’t want to slog through another 300 odd pages to get to the good bit like I did with this one. I also didn’t love that it all seemed nicely set up as a standalone & then the end was just introduced to force a sequel, it didn’t seem like it naturally led to a sequel.
Overall, this book really disappointed me because magic + revolutionary France + prison breaks + squad goals should have been right up my street. But the premise was better than the execution, and whilst it did become more interesting towards the end, it was too late to make me want to read the sequel.
My Rating: 2/5
My next review will be of my first November audiobook (well I finished it on 1st November, so I read most of it in October, but I’m counting it with November), We Were Liars, by E.Lockhart. I’m finally only a month behind on my backlog! I’m also down to only three books left to review now as I haven’t finished my current audiobook yet, so fingers crossed I can get it even further down before I do.