REVIEW: The Court of Miracles – Kester Grant

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Author: Kester Grant (website)

UK Publisher: HarperVoyager

Genre: Historical fiction, YA

Liberty

1828 and the citizens of Paris still mourn in the wake of their failed revolution. Among them, in the dark alleys and crumbling cathedrals of the city, the most wretched have gathered into guilds of thieves, assassins – and worse. Together they are known as The Court of Miracles.

Family

Eponine has lost more than most. When her father, Thénardier, sells her sister to the Guild of Flesh she makes a promise to do anything she can to get her sister back, even if that means joining the Court of Miracles, the very people keeping her sister a slave.

Treachery

Eponine becomes perhaps the greatest thief the Court has ever known, finding a place among them and gaining another sister, Cosette. But she has never forgotten the promise she made, and if she’s to have any hope of saving one sister, she will have to betray the other.

When I first started this book I had a moment of disappointment because it was first person present tense and, honestly, I kind of struggle with that. I find it can feel quite breathless as narrative styles go, and like the narrative is overtaking the action and I can’t quite relax into it because I feel as if I’m about to do the reading equivalent of tripping over my own feet. It’s a weird thing to explain, and probably sounds very strange, but there we have it.

I stuck with it, but it was probably this combined with my lack of knowledge of the inspiration material that it took me until nearly halfway through to realise that when the sales line said “Les Misérables meets Six of Crows” it meant literally. The novel is a retelling, of sorts, of Les Misérables set in an alternative France where the revolution wasn’t a success and a monarchy still rules. And yes, I know that Cosette and Eponine are Les Mis characters, but other names I recognised I thought were familiar because they had something actually to do with the French Revolution. Right up until the name Jean Valjean appeared at 46%, with his prisoner number, and then I realised exactly how dumb I was being.

It’s an interesting move, in that respect then, to make Eponine the main character. I recall vague bits of the show (seen the day before I got my GCSE results in… oof, 2004) and I’ve never read the book, but I have some knowledge of the plot. but Eponine is the epitome of tragedy based on weakness of character and then redemption through love. The book reinvents her completely, makes her the younger rather than the elder sister, and gives her a drive and an intense sense of personal justice.

The contents are dark. Really dark. So how about some trigger warnings for sex slavery, rape, drug use, intense violence? It’s an alternate universe and things aren’t good. While the last revolution didn’t amount to anything, and there’s still a rising gulf between the royals and the poorest in society, and instead a court of the downtrodden has risen so there are two opposing  sides – the King and Queen of France, and the court of thieves, killers, beggars, and all the outcasts of society. The Miracle Court is split into different factions – Thieves, Beggars, Assassins, Smugglers, Drug Dealers, Spies. There’s another faction, formerly of ‘Sisters’, which was the name for when the faction of sex workers was run by women, for women, but it’s since become the guild of Flesh, as it’s now run by a slaver, who drugs women and forces them into prostitution.

Eponine, or Nina as she’s known, finds herself with the leader of the guild of flesh as her nemesis, the Tiger haunting every one of her steps. As she builds a career as a gifted cat burglar, she finds herself slowly weaving her way through Parisian society, from the royal courts, the factions of students, and the Court of Miracles itself. You begin to see the way things are interlinked and built on top of each other. Each layer relies on those above and below to hold the whole structure together.

Despite my misgivings on the narrative style, I actually found myself not noticing it once I got swept up by the plot. It didn’t feel like I was about to trip over myself while I was reading, and the pace actually balanced speedy action with making sure the narrator didn’t get tangled up in the telling. Structurally, the book was split into separate parts which jumped forward between significant events. This is basically Nina’s origin story, and while parts of it mirror Les Mis, there’s no real way to predict how things will turn out because the rules of the story have been entirely rewritten.

This seems to be the first in a series, although it’s hard to entirely predict how things will progress from the ending. There are parts which feel like they’ve been left open, but I couldn’t say they felt like enough to carry another full book. I do suspect Grant’s got a lot of tricks up her sleeve, however, so I will be interested to see how much further this story goes.

Briefly:

  • An epic, dark, alternative historical novel set in a Paris where the French Revolution was unsuccessful. It’s bleak and dark, and uses Les Mis as a starting point for the characters.
  • I suspect this book may land more firmly with fans of Les Mis, and they might get more out of it than myself, with my only very vague understanding.
  • It was published by HarperVoyager, HarperCollins’ SFF imprint, but there wasn’t really any fantasy in it. I wonder if that is something more which will come later, or whether instead it’s fallen under that mantle because of the alternate universe speculative nature of the setting.

Rating: 4/5 – I was wary about this at first based on the choice of narrative voice, but I found myself quickly swept up in the story.

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