My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…
When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.
But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns…
I was very much looking forward to reading this book and although overall I enjoyed the story it wasn’t quite the book I had hoped for.
Trelease’s writing is very beautiful and detailed, and perfectly evoked the opulence of Versailles as well as the poverty of the home Camille starts out in. Camille’s family history set up the main plot of the book in an interesting effective way- I really felt like I could understand how desperate they were for money after the death of their parents and I was immediately on Camille’s side, urging her and her sister Sophie to escape from their violent, drug, gambling addicted brother Alain.
The romance between Camille and Lazare was also wonderful and I had butterflies reading about their fledgling relationship and the will they/won’t they flirting. The storyline about Lazare’s balloon was interesting, if a little drawn out in places and distracting from the main story at times. The scenes with the actual balloon flights added some much needed adventure to the book and I enjoyed stepping in Camille’s shoes and imagining how incredible it would feel to be flying at this point in history where it was almost unheard of.
Unfortunately, I found the scenes in Versailles failed to keep my attention for the most part. I found the magic system one of the most interesting parts of the story to begin with, but it felt to me as if it was almost never used. All Camille used it for was to change her appearance, go to the palace and win some card games. It seemed almost pointless to have included the magic within the book as she could equally have just been a naturally skilled gambler. I also felt that it was strange of Camille as a character to choose gambling when she was so against her brother Alain’s habit. I think it would have been more true to her as a character to have her find cleverer ways to use magic to gain power and money.
Overall, I enjoyed this story, particularly the relationship between Camille and Lazare. I think the pacing of the book is very slow at times and would have benefited from much less time at the card tables.