In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles.
Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie). When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe.
Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger
Trigger warnings: contains mature themes including human trafficking, sexual slavery and violence towards women and children.
The Court of Miracles is a fascinating, rich and absorbing retelling of Les Misérables which totally lived up to the hype for me. I’m not going to pretend like I wasn’t drawn in by the cover at first since it’s so pretty but luckily, in this case the contents were just as great. The novel follows Nina over a series of years, we first meet her when she is a young girl who has her sister Azelma torn away from her and she is has no other option than to join the underground criminal guild called The Court of Miracles. Through the court she finds a place to belong and a family, as well as plenty of thrilling missions and even meets Dauphine, the handsome young prince of France. The whole time however, she can’t let go of her sister and forges a daring plan to save her, and her new friend Ettie, once for all…
I loved the setting of 18th century Paris and how Kester Grant makes every scene so rich and atmospheric. From the underground world of the guilds and their activities, to the sense of brewing revolution above, it all felt so well realised. I liked that there was so much detail and thought put into all the guilds and how they all had different specialties- there’s a guild of thieves (which Nina belongs to), a guild of letters, a guild of poisons, a guild of assassins and a guild of smugglers and a guild of death.
As well as the atmospheric nature of the novel, I also loved the fact that most of the characters are people of colour, including the main character Nina. I would have liked if there was some more insight into her background though, as it’s sort of ambiguous. I don’t think it’s any secret that so many classic texts or dramas don’t feature any poc characters so I love when authors do unique retellings of these stories and offer a diverse cast of characters which have depth and development. From reading a few questions on the authors site, it’s clear that this choice was intentional and that Grant also used her own experience as a woman of colour to comment upon social inequality, in terms of class, race and religion within the book. Read about this here.
I thought the journey Nina goes on as a character was so great and satisfying as well. I feel like a lot of people will say that her arc is unrealistic and that she’s just too good at what she does and she always manages to get away with these risky tasks but I kind of loved that? I loved that she picked up the ropes easily and manages to pull of daring heists and missions, this is fiction after all and I don’t always look for realism here. I also liked that whilst Nina has romantic interests within the book – each of whom I liked for one reason or another – it wasn’t her main focus and so it wasn’t a central focus at all. I feel like any romantic plot line will happen in the next book maybe, which I’m not opposed to.
I also enjoyed how the novel explores the themes of power, revolution and justice. As in reality, there are individuals or institutions which have more privilege and benefit from the work of others; such as the monarchy in the novel who throw lavish parties and stockpile their food whilst the masses in Paris are on the brink of starvation. As well as the monarchy, there is the Tiger lord, who oppresses and enslaves mercilessly and this element was so important and the exploration of how the vicious cycle of abuse can repeat over and over.
Overall, The Court of Miracles was a really great read for me and addictive enough to finish over a couple of days. Since I haven’t read or watched Les Mis, I don’t know how faithful the novel is to certain plot points and where exactly it deviates but from what I do know, the atmosphere, political themes and overall vibe feels true to the original story. I would definitely recommend this if you’re into retellings, in the fantasy and Y/A genres.
Until next time,
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