*Warning: words en Francais may appear sporadically.
This book is…enchanting. I didn’t have it on my radar until quite simply everyone seemed to be asking about this novel about two sisters living in Paris during the French Revolution, one with the gift of magic, and with the desperate need to get themselves out of the dire situation they are in. They are poor, with Camille using her magie to turn pieces of metal they find in the dirt into coins, while Sophie is ailing, weak with a terrible cough. Their brother Alain is a drunkard and cruel, deeply in debt from his gambling, and the sisters just dream of finding a home away from their brother, Sophie perhaps marrying into aristocracy and money, while Camille has dreams of owning a print shop like her deceased father once did.
I’m not usually swept up into a book such as this, one that is a spell-binding combination of magic, romance, historical fiction, and fantasy, but although it’s a long book (some parts seemed overly long, and I felt like the whole thing could have been quite a bit shorter), I was entranced by the characters, as well as the setting.
Author Gita Trelease has painted a vivid portrait of Paris in the 18th century in ‘Enchantée’, when the contrast between the rich and the poor was stark, and Marie Antoinette was taking court. Readers will be pleased to know that they will served up ‘beacoup de’ servings of what it was like to live as a French aristocrat at that time, as Camille takes on a new persona, as the Baroness de la Fontaine, when she uses her ‘magie glamoire’ to gain entry to Versailles to play and turn cards. While there she rubs elbows with the rich she would otherwise detest, but ends up making friends as she makes enough money to change things for herself and Sophie. She internally struggles with her use of magie and the differences between the rich and the poor at that time, even though she is using it to change her fortune.
There’s a ‘rags-to-riches’/Cinderella tale here, a face-off between the handsome suitors (the handsome, devilish rogue, Seguin, and the more reserved but romantic ingenue, Lazare). The book provides a wonderful look at the culture of the time (I absolutely loved all the research obviously done regarding the use of hot-air balloons; that was probably my favorite part), as well as our protagonist wrestling with so many ideals and virtues. This gives a fantastic deeper edge to the book, and gives a real nod to climate preceding the Revolution. The poverty that was experienced by the ‘poor’ thanks to the disparity created by taxes and wheat prices, is fervently clear throughout, and it’s the thing that drives Camille all the way through her saga at Versailles, and pushes her use her magie. But the question is always, is it worth it? And does this make her just like the aristo? I think the answers are a bit murky at the end, despite the ‘happy ending’.
I would very much imagine that many of those who have fallen particularly for the setting of belle Paris, have not had the privilege, like myself, of visiting France, and may not even speak much French; the book is addled with short French phrases, for which, Trelease has put a glossary in the back of the book. It may remove a little enjoyment to keep looking things up, if you don’t know the meaning of those words, but my guess is you have rudimentary French knowledge to have interest in the book in the first place. I appreciate the explanation of all the historical facts and figures as they appear in the book, as they are fascinating.
The pace of the book picks up rapidly at about half way through the book, which I felt could have been a lot plus rapide; I feel as though a historical fiction/romance is a bit extravagant at close to 500 pages. If you’re looking for a book with lots of action and adventure, this one isn’t it, and thanks to the coy teasing nature of the romantic flirting, even that isn’t super juicy and doesn’t take up a wild amount of those pages. But of the ones that it does, they’re not overdone or too sickly sweet.
‘Enchantée’ is a fabulous romantic story set in Revolutionary France and I’d say ‘vas-y’ (that means go for it), if you’re enamored by historical romance at all. This has a sumptuous setting, unique voice, and made a change in all the YA I’d read lately.
By the way, Paris remains one of my most favorite cities today; take a plane and read ‘Enchantée on the way (sorry that you have to wait until February for it, malheureusement)!