published: 4th June 2020
spoilers? I tried to limit them
Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.
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.
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.
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.
This beautiful reimagining of Les Misérables tells the stories of your favourite characters and what might have happened if the French Revolution had not come to pass.
Galley provided by publisher
CWs: prostitution, violence, self-harm
Step one if you want to read this book goes thus: ignore what it comps to. It is not like Les Mis (in fact, if you pretend like it isn’t attempting to be a retelling, you’ll probably have a better time of it than I did). It is most definitely not like Six of Crows (if someone could tell me where this comp came from, it would clear a lot up). And the whole Jungle Book aspect seems limited to the epigraphs selected for the beginning of each part.
In short, just pretend like it’s nothing to do with any of that.
If you can’t (and I definitely couldn’t), here’s what you have to look forward to.
What I found initially was that the plot was very confusing. For all that it’s supposedly a “retelling” of Les Mis, it picks and chooses when exactly it wishes to get close to the tale, and when it distances itself. Which would be fine, were I not expecting more of a retelling. But even when I put my expectations aside regarding that, it remained confusing. Primarily, I think, because there is no obvious overarching aim to the plot. Or, there is, but you realise it at the conclusion, and there’s been very little foreshadowing of it, or downright actually telling you what it is. So really, it just feels somewhat disjointed and aimlessly drifting.
And then there’s the fact I didn’t even realise it was a “what if the French Revolution never happened” kind of scenario. (That’s on me, sure, but in my defence, the blurb I initially read said nothing of the sort.) Because, really, there doesn’t seem that much about the worldbuilding to mark it out as historical fiction, let alone historical fiction set in 1820s France. Okay, so there’s mentions of the Dauphin, the Tuileries, etc etc, but historical worldbuilding has to be more than just place names, surely?
But perhaps the biggest travesty of this book is in its characters.
First, a positive note (I know, I’m surprised as well). The Eponine in this book is a damn sight better than the Eponine in the last retelling I read (damning with faint praise, I know, but still).
But beyond that, the characters are hardly recognisable as their namesakes. And they feel very much caricaturish versions of them. Each one can perhaps be summed up by a single characteristic of the original. For example, Enjolras is the revolutionary (and not much else), Grantaire is the drunkard, Montparnasse is the knife-wielding one, Eponine is an amazing thief – and these are the more recurrent characters of the lot. It is, quite simply, disappointing.
And don’t even get me started on the absolute cowardice involved in a creative decision that makes Javert a woman for the sole purpose of hinting that Valjean and Javert had previously had Something. It’s 20-fucking-20.
Final point (I think): this book had a tendency to randomly introduce characters and plot points that had not been mentioned before but are clearly important if they’re being brought up again. Case in point: Cosette. The whole first part of the book is about Eponine and Azelma, which makes sense because it provides the whole motivation behind Eponine’s plans later. No mention of a third child at this point. And then part two skips straight to where Eponine’s plan to trade Cosette for Azelma starts. As in, the point it becomes successful. Never having mentioned Cosette before now, never setting up the plan, nothing. It’s a six year time skip and, in doing that, all of the necessary information here has just been dumped.
The thing is, this keeps happening. A time skip occurs and suddenly the requisite character development has taken place and we haven’t seen a thing of it (like how Eponine is an amazing thief). If I’m supposed to root for various relationships, I need to see how they develop. It just doesn’t work otherwise.
Which reminds me of another point (sorry I lied about the last one being final. I have a lot of thoughts about this book). I would not necessarily mind the whole Eponine’s-unrequited-love-for-Marius being written out (side note: where is Marius?), but it’s written out and replaced with not one, not two, but three love interests. And it’s not just Montparnasse (like you might expect if you’ve read any fic), it’s the Dauphin too, and it’s Enjolras. Now, it took me a while to work out how old Eponine was in this book, but I figured it out. She first meets Enjolras at the age of 9. But for him to be, at this point, already involved in his activism and suchlike, and carrying a gun, you would expect him to be maybe 17 at minimum? (Or I would.) Which means, oh an 8 year age gap. And he knows her as well from the age of 15 to 18 (more time skips!). So that makes him a 26-year-old love interest. In fact, of all the love interests, maybe the Dauphin is the only one at all close in age to Eponine (and he’s a privileged dickhead so…).
It is, to be honest, less a love triangle/square/whatever shape you want, and more a love three-legged-monster-thing.
Oh and then there’s the little thing of all of Eponine’s plans (which we do not see actually planned, despite the book being in first person. Come to think of it, we see absolutely nothing planned throughout because a) Eponine is an amazing thief who can do everything on the fly and b) time skips, my old friends) coming off without a hitch. Even the most complex ones. Because plot.
And did I mention she’s an amazing thief?