Take magic and romance, mix in the tumult of Paris on the eve of revolution, and you’ll get the historical fiction delight that is Enchantée. Gita Trelease’s début young adult novel is an enchanting romp through the streets of Paris in 1789 in which magic literally winds through the city and through the story.
When smallpox takes her parents, orphaning her and her two siblings, Camille Durbonne must find a way to keep her family afloat. Her younger sister, Sophie, was affected by smallpox as well and needs medicine, while her older brother Alain – once a protective and responsible sibling – has become a volatile drunk and a gambler who loses all of their money. The only sibling in her family to whom their mother was able to teach magic, Camille relies on her ability to painstakingly transform scraps of metal into money to buy food and medicine. But the coins don’t hold their shape, and Alain is constantly losing what they earn, leaving them unable to pay the rent.
When Alain suddenly disappears, it’s a mixed blessing. The sisters are no longer burdened by his presence, but he’s absconded with the savings Camille had been hiding. With nowhere else to turn, Camille begins to use the dark magic forbidden by her mother in order to transform herself into a baroness in the hopes of using magical sleight of hand to win the money she and her sister need.
In the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, aristocrats both fear and hunger for magic. Camille finds that if she isn’t careful, there’s much more at stake than the discovery of her true identity. As she struggles with her resentment of the opulence around her and the allure of the glamour, Camille meets a handsome young inventor who puts love and liberty just within her reach. But magic has its costs, and Camille is trying to stay in control of her many secrets. When the revolution erupts, it seems Camille’s world will as well.
Camille is, in a lot of ways, a typical seventeen-year-old young woman – unsure of herself, trying to find her way in the world – interacting with a beautiful boy who has captured her heart. But she also deals with so much more; trying to take care of her family after the sudden loss of her parents and trying to control her magic, a power that maybe is taking more from her than it’s giving to her. She’s so responsible in some ways and so naïve in others. Her younger sister Sophia is jealous of Camille’s abilities, but it’s her voice through the novel that helps us understand Camille.
Camille believes herself to be ordinary, and therefore sees no reason why the handsome young inventor – Lazare – might be interested in her, but thanks to Sophia’s urging and Lazare’s longing looks, we’re able to see a spark there – long before Camille does. But don’t worry, Camille’s crush is heavy, and there are plenty of moments to make readers swoon along with her while she’s still figuring it out. And then there’s the danger to Camille the longer she’s using her magic. It’s only when seen through Sophia’s PoV that we can really understand the physical effects that the glamour is having on Camille, and that it’s endangering her life. But Camille feels responsible for taking care of her sister – as only she was able to have learned from her mother, she feels her ability has tasked her to with the care of the other two. As we delve into Camille’s life, we assume that the antagonist of the story is Alain and their poverty, but the more embroiled in noble life Camille becomes, the more we begin to sense that there’s danger for Camille at all sides, and her lives begin to overlap in ways she could have never anticipated.
At some point in the novel I found it difficult to track when Camille was in her glamour and when she was not. One easy tell was the use of her false name, but there were times she’d need to use it even in the presence of her sister and so at those times I found it difficult to immediately discern the difference. I also found a few of the events hard to follow amid all the excitement and drama of the books’ end, but that didn’t take away from my general appreciation for the attention to detail throughout the novel. There’s a clear appreciation and understanding of Paris and French history, making an exciting and magical read all the more enchanting (pun intended).
Overall, the immersion in the history of the period along with some swoon worthy moments and an adventurous magical ride make Enchantée a great pick, not just for a young adult reader, but for anyone with an appreciation for historical fiction.