3 / 5 stars
Read in June 2020
Book #1 in The Court of Miracles series
Published June 2020
Is it just me, or does anyone else feel like they’ve added a surge of YA novels inspired by one of the French revolutions to their tbr lately? With this book, I was immediately intrigued when its description called it a Les Mis retelling.
Éponine “Nina” Thénardier witnesses her greedy father sell her beloved elder sister, Azelma, to a cruel brothel owner in exchange for a few gold coins. To save Nina from the same fate, Azelma arranges for her to be rescued from their father and swept into the mysterious Court of Miracles in the underworld of Paris. Made up of nine Guilds, the Court is a dark kingdom with political rivalries and ruthless rules of its own. Nina enthusiastically joins the Thieves Guild and becomes known as “The Black Cat” for her stealth and ability to sneak into any building. She soon discovers that the very man who bought her sister is none other than The Tiger, Lord of the Guild of Flesh, and Nina vows rescue Azelma. But when Thénardier adopts the beautiful Cosette “Ettie”, and she attracts The Tiger’s eye, Nina must concoct a plan to keep both her sisters safe.
This description, for me, is the true essence of this novel; a tale of sisterly love in a high-stakes, ominous world. It kept me on the edge of my seat as I wondered how Nina and Ettie would manage to escape the men trying to keep them caged. So why then, you might ask, is this a Les Mis retelling, aside from the characters’ names? If so, you’re asking the very question I found myself repeating throughout the book.
Yes, this book includes many other beloved Les Mis characters (Valjean, Javert, Enjolras and the Friends of the ABC, Gavroche. No Marius, surprisingly). Yes, one of the subplots involves the student-led June Rebellion and the battles at the barricade. But for a retelling, the Les Mis factor of it all is very underwhelming and left me wondering why it was even necessary. I wasn’t hyped on feelings of revolution and justice (Vive la France!), but rather felt invested in Nina’s life-or-death struggle to outwit the brotherhood she once vowed to uphold. If this book had solely relied on the fantastical, sinister world of the Court and its cast of compelling side characters (Orso, Femi, Tomasis, Lady Corday, The Tiger, etc.), it would have been just as successful, if not even more so.
That being said, I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a fast-paced read; I couldn’t stop turning the pages as I followed Nina through the streets of Paris, from the royal palace to the sewers below. Kester Grant does an incredible job setting the scene and making you feel, smell, and hear everything Nina does, as though you’re sneaking along right beside her. I absolutely loved Nina’s sweet relationship with Ettie, as the bond the adopted sisters shared outdid all the other relationships in the book.
Additionally, you might enjoy this book if you like stories with light romance. Romance isn’t central to the plot, but rather it’s peppered throughout the book and takes a backseat to the rest of the action. However, it just didn’t work for me. The flirting in which Nina partakes with not one, but three men is not only sparse – it lacks chemistry. And don’t get me started on the scene where she surprise kisses Le Dauphin… I know it was to throw him off guard, but surprise kisses are not romantic.
The timeline of Nina’s story spans several years, however these time jumps are not well established. Despite the year being indicated at the beginning of each section, I still had a difficult time discerning how old Nina was supposed to be. At one point I stopped picturing her as a child and started imagining her as a teenager, but this was a choice I made based on the plot (read: romance) rather than clear cues indicated in the text. Also, the various animal fables at the beginning of each act didn’t add anything to the story for me – I think they were meant to enrich the plot, but I simply skipped most of them (I’m generally not a fan of this technique).
Overall, this was a good debut. I was surprised to learn it will be a series, as I think this book could easily succeed as a standalone novel. With the conflict resolved by the end, I’m interested to see what the second book will entail. I haven’t decided whether I’ll continue with the series, and I think I’ll wait to decide until I read the description of the sequel.
Thank you to Random House Children’s via Netgalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.