My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars
Thank you, Macmillan, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Magicians needed sorrow. And deep sorrow existed only because of love.
What’s great about historical fiction is that it removes, if not embellishes, the “boring” or pedantic aspects of the past. Add a touch of magic, and it becomes even better. Following this train of thought, I hoped to thoroughly enjoy this novel, which I thought was a clever combination of Cinderella and Les Misérables.
Set in 18th-century France, Enchantée depicts the miserable life of Camille Durbonne. After her parents die of smallpox, she and her sister Sophie become desperate to make ends meet. Sophie can magically turn scrap metal into gold, but the effect is temporary. To make things worse, Alain, their older brother, is too debaucherous to save them from poverty. Dreading the idea of being evicted from their home, Camille decides to step up her game. Through blood magic, she disguises herself as a beautiful baroness and infiltrates the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. There, Camille learns two important things. First, affluence doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness. Second, as stated by Rumpelstiltskin in Once Upon a Time, “All magic comes with a price.”
If I were an elementary student, I would give this book perfect marks because of its “moral lessons” (the redundancy makes me cringe to this day). After all, reading should be not only for pleasure but also for enlightenment or self-improvement. I particularly resonated with Camille, who felt that she had a void in her heart. She managed to fill it for a time through magic and gambling, but she eventually realized that such addictions would only make her feel emptier in the end. The Palace of Versailles provided for Camille’s needs and wants. On the other hand, it alienated her from Sophie, who was worth more than gold. In this world of sex, drugs, and other vices, Camille’s life story is very relevant.
Lazar, Camille’s love interest, was similarly inspiring in terms of character development. Since he was a person of color, many people disrespected him. Some even treated him like an exotic animal that they wished to keep as a pet. It didn’t matter that he was half French and very inventive; his Indian blood was more important to his peers. Our society now claims to be “progressive,” but I’m sure that some people are more than willing to regress to the harsh racism of the olden days.
I also liked the author’s atmospheric writing, which was perfect for the historical setting. The remarkable places and weirdly dressed royals were vividly described, so I could imagine them without difficulty. Enchantée rekindled my desire to visit France even though I became familiar with its dark past. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were annoying rulers, enjoying a lavish life at the expense of the common people. Considering their disregard for those “beneath” them, I strongly supported the French Revolution (the demolition of the monarchy). My only issue with the writing was the abundance of French terms. Really, I wish that I had studied French so that I didn’t have to keep on checking the glossary. Doing so was such a hassle!
Regardless of how much I loved the book’s themes, I decided not to give it a higher rating because of its disappointing climax. The buildup to the confrontation was incongruous to what actually happened. The villain wasn’t so powerful after all. And he/she was defeated so quickly like the author was forcing a happily ever after. In other words, the climax spoiled some of my fondness for the story.
Nonetheless, don’t let my 3.75 stars discourage you from reading Enchantée. As far as “moral lessons” are concerned, it’s one of the most meaningful novels in my library. If you want to immerse yourself in the glittering (yet dirty) city of 18th-century Paris, you already know what book to pick up.