Noblewoman Emilie des Marais longs to study the noonday arts and use her natural talents in healing to become a physician, but women typically only learn the less violent and gruesome midnight arts (scrying, illusion, and other divinations vs. warfare and physical/mental healing). Stumbling across a peasant girl who resembles her enough to take her place at Mademoiselle Gardinier’s finishing school feels like a stroke of luck, especially since Annette Boucher holds immense talent in the midnight arts. Annette’s family has pushed her aside ever since her older sister’s death, and she knows they will never miss her if she agrees to Emilie’s ridiculous scheme. Besides, the most powerful midnight artist, Estrel, is a commoner, so what does she have to lose? Both young women learn that getting what you want often has a high price, and when Demeine’s king starts a war to distract the populace from internal rebellion, they will have to combine their skills to help unravel the truth and save their homeland from destruction.
If you love world building, Belle Révolte is the book for you. If you love complex narratives that shift from lighthearted to heart wrenching, Belle Révolte is the book for you. If you love stories that effortlessly provide representation for a variety of gender identities, sexualities, and social classes, Belle Révolte is the book for you. Is it obvious how intensely I got drawn into this novel? Emilie and Annette’s shared narrative starts simply from the same desire and need: to be seen and appreciated for who they are, not judged for not fitting their prescribed societal roles. Their initial name/clothing/role swap feels fun, although the threat to Annette if the girls’ deception is discovered is much greater. As the country is plunged into war, both of them face horrors that change them from observers into key players in the rebellion against the king. It’s a harsh transition, but Annette and Emilie need to change their world to something that respects both of their skill sets and desires instead of one that values Emilie more while still forcing her into an ill-fitting role.
I bought into the basic world building of Belle Révolte happily. A country where magical abilities existed but were divided by day/night and gender intrigued me enough that I was sold just on the basic concept. Miller’s clarification that the divisions were purely societal (i.e., ladies shouldn’t use magic that could hurt themselves or others) was reinforced by Emilie’s strong natural skill at the noonday arts. (I initially thought it might hint at Emilie being transgender, but in her case it’s a woman with skills and interests that are seen as traditionally masculine.) Annette possesses extreme talent in the feminine midnight arts, but her abilities hold equal weight when war comes to the country. The only thing holding her back was a common background that made an education to use her natural gifts out of reach. To me, they felt like a fantastical yin and yang, and Emilie and Annette (and their complementary magics) were opposites, yet contained a bit of the other from their fateful meeting.
I hinted at gender identity and non-heteronormative sexuality representation earlier in this review, so without spoiling anything major, I’ll clarify a little. The story features:
- One identified transgender character
- One identified asexual character
- Multiple characters who could be classified as lesbian or pansexual (For some there isn’t enough detail about their preferences to know what the overall pattern is; we just see current partner choices.)
- A group of characters presented with they/them pronouns (Admittedly, because this is a group of mixed gender individuals, using they/them is a better way than ascribing masculine pronouns; however, given the author’s sensitivity to gender issues in her previous works, I think it’s worth including in this list.)
Belle Révolte is classified as older YA, but I must caution parents to either preview the story first or be available to discuss passages with younger readers. The second half delves into some very dark places, and while I firmly feel tweens and teens should learn the importance of standing up for something they believe in, more sensitive readers could feel emotionally impacted by some of the situations and imagery. The primary reveal about what fueled the rebellion horrified me, and it’s taken me several days to digest it.
Linsey Miller has never shied away from looking at the darker side of fantasy and society, and Belle Révolte is no exception. The protagonists grow, change, love, and lose in equal measure, and I wanted to see how their stories ended. Could two girls from opposite ends of society change the world, and are the changes worth their sacrifices? Pick up this book to find out! The story may help you re-examine what matters most and decide what you would stand firm for.
4 Silver Scrying Necklaces out of 5
Author: Linsey Miller
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Click here to purchase.