Book: The Court of Miracles
Author: Kester Grant
Published By: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: 4th June (whoops, sorry!)
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Ettie and Nina talk about food.
Content Warnings: Violence, sex trafficking, prostitution, drug dependency, mentions of slavery, starvation, poverty
Thank you to Harper Voyager and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book, this in no way affected my opinion of it.
I was really excited for The Court of Miracles because it sounded so great, a diverse Les Mis/Jungle Book retelling? And an incredibly gorgeous cover? Yes please! However I ended up being massively disappointed in this book. The plot was confusing to follow, there were way too many historical inaccuracies, and it wasn’t really a fantasy at all, more alternate history which meant the story I got was very different to the story I expected. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
A diverse fantasy reimagining of Les Misérables and The Jungle Book.
In the dark days following a failed French Revolution, in the violent jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, young cat-burglar Eponine (Nina) Thenardier goes head to head with merciless royalty, and the lords of the city’s criminal underworld to save the life of her adopted sister Cosette (Ettie).
Her vow will take her from the city’s dark underbelly, through a dawning revolution, to the very heart of the glittering court of Louis XVII, where she must make an impossible choice between guild, blood, betrayal and war.
So I’ll start with my main issue with this book, it was confusing as hell! It seemed like the author was introducing new characters every other page, there were weird time skips throughout that were done pretty clumsily and made it hard to keep track of the timeline. I mean I read a lot of fantasy, I’m used to having to keep track of 10 billion characters, but here it was almost impossible and adding the confusing timeline, this was not an easy book to follow at all.
Also for a book that is advertised as fantasy? Yeah, there’s basically no fantasy to be found, it’s largely alternative history, which is absolutely fine, I enjoy alternative history as much as anyone, but it sets up wrong expectations for readers. The only real “fantasy” that there is, is a woman who is able to hypnotise people and it seems really out of place because the rest of the world is not set up as a fantastical one.
There’s also numerous historical errors. Whilst obviously, alternate history means that things will be slightly different, there are certain basic things that the author got wrong. The biggest and most glaring one: THE FABREGE EGGS. THEY ARE RUSSIAN, NOT FRENCH AND YOU CAN FIND THAT OUT FROM A QUICK GOOGLE SEARCH. THEY ALSO DIDN’T EXIST THIS EARLY. There was no reason to include that detail and it made it look like the author hadn’t really done her research.
We also have the classic, Marie Antoinette said “let them eat cake”, which has been pretty widely disputed by historians based on lack of evidence of famines during Louis XVI’s reign and that reports of the phrase being said did not line up with her arrival in France. It’s one of those myths that seems to have endured over the years, but is in all likelihood not true. It also would not have been widely known at the time this book was set given that the book which attributed the quote to her was not published till 1843, about ten years after the setting of this book. There’s also the problem that Louis XVII, who is meant to be the King in this book (according to the blurb, it’s not actually made clear in the text) died in 1795, of natural causes (not due to the revolution) so he would not have been alive during the timeline of this book.
Basically, it’s clear that the author didn’t really do her research for the history behind this book because if she had then some of these errors could have been avoided. You could still have had the monarchy in charge, if the revolution had failed, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette could easily have still be in charge in 1828 assuming that they lived into their 70s which would have been old for the time but not impossible. Either that, or Louis’s brother Charles would have been in charge (as Louis XVIII was dead at this point), or it would have been Marie-Therese and her husband. That’s really a very long winded way of saying that even without the French Revolution, Louis XVII would not have been in charge because he DIED in 1795.
The characters felt incredibly flat, none of them were particularly developed, even Nina, the main character here didn’t feel like she had much of a personality beyond being a good thief. Nina seems able to do just about anything as well, even things that are meant to be impossible which meant that the stakes never really felt that high because it was pretty clear Nina would be able to get out of pretty much any situation with limited difficulty.
I liked the idea of the Guilds and this whole underworld of Paris, but the world didn’t feel very fleshed out. We get a basic idea of what each Guild does but we don’t really get an in-depth look at any of them, even Nina’s. You don’t get a very good sense of time or place either, because nothing is really described that well (and that’s coming from me, who usually gets frustrated with lots of description! This book just went too far the other way). It’s also not immediately clear that this is France in an alternative French Revolution went wrong world, I didn’t realise till about halfway through the book!
I usually love sisterly relationships in books but it was super hard for me to invest in Ettie and Nina, Ettie is just kind of randomly introduced in the second part of the book, they’ve already known each other for years (Ettie was adopted by Nina’s father, I think, but I’m not actually sure how old Nina was when that happened as her age is never made totally clear) and it’s difficult to have the same investment in Ettie as a character as Nina does because we barely know her. I also felt like Ettie read as younger than she was meant to be, I’m guessing she was meant to be a teenager and she read as more like 9 or 10 to me. I also found it a bit strange given how much she supposedly loved Azelma (her other sister) that she seemed to be dropped pretty quickly.
Also EVERYONE IS IN LOVE WITH NINA. She has like three different potential love interests in this and we don’t really get to see the development of her relationships with anyone so again the investment is minimal. JUST PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING YA AUTHORS, IF YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO HAVE A LOVE INTEREST IN EVERY SINGLE BOOK, PLEASE, PLEASE, JUST PICK ONE AND DEVELOP THEM WELL.
A lot of this book felt very rushed? Everything happens at such “blink and you’ll miss it” pace that I found it very hard to settle into. Usually I’m complaining about books being too slow paced but I think in the case of this one, it actually would have helped if the author had slowed down a little. Also for a trilogy, it kind of seemed like this story was very self contained? It’s almost like the author threw all her ideas for the trilogy into this one book. It was all too complicated, I reckon if she had kept at one plot idea (like rescuing Azelma from the Tiger) and expanded it more, this book would have been a whole lot better.
The villain, The Tiger is meant to be this really threatening guy and whilst of course, trafficking women is horrendous, he didn’t really feel as threatening as I think he was meant to be because he’s hardly developed at all.
The Javert gender switch would have been cool but it felt like it was mainly done to avoid an LGBTQ+ pairing with Valjean which definitely felt a little iffy to me, it’s not like there were no gay people in the 1800s! It was also kind of irritating that a woman in 1800s France who is at a high level in her job (I think a Commander or something) couldn’t just be motivated by wanting to be good at her job rather than some romantic revenge.
I also feel like she didn’t really need to keep the names of all the Les Mis characters, like you can still reimagine the story without using the exact names of the original characters.
The writing style was a little odd, it felt like she was maybe trying too hard to be 19th century and it resulted in this slightly stilted, old fashioned writing style.
I appreciated that Grant made this world racially inclusive and diverse as 19th century France was definitely not as white as some period films would lead you to believe, and that made the avoidance of LGBTQ+ relationships even more glaring (because yes, you historical world can and should include both, especially because the two aren’t mutually exclusive!).
I did enjoy the little in-world stories at the beginning of each part.
Honestly I wish I had more nice stuff to say about this book, but overall I just didn’t really enjoy it. That’s not to say that others won’t, I’m sure there are plenty of people who will, it just wasn’t really for me.
My Rating: 2/5
My next review will be of my August #RockMyTBR book, The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin, which I’ve already finished, so I’m hoping to have my review up tomorrow.