CW’s: Death/Murder, Execution, Gore, Abuse
Representation 🌷 Biromantic Ace MC, f/f romance
Expected Publication: February 4th 2020
Emilie des Marais is more at home holding scalpels than embroidery needles and is desperate to escape her noble roots to serve her country as a physician. But society dictates a noble lady cannot perform such gruesome work.
Annette Boucher, overlooked and overworked by her family, wants more from life than her humble beginnings and is desperate to be trained in magic. So when a strange noble girl offers Annette the chance of a lifetime, she accepts.
Emilie and Annette swap lives—Annette attends finishing school as a noble lady to be trained in the ways of divination, while Emilie enrolls to be a physician’s assistant, using her natural magical talent to save lives.
But when their nation instigates a frivolous war, Emilie and Annette must work together to help the rebellion end a war that is based on lies.
Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for providing me with a digital Arc in exchange for an honest review! All quotes featured are from the Arc and therefore subject to changes.
“You are not the people who love you or the people you’ve lost. They’re just parts of you. You are so much more than you’ve been led to believe.”
Belle Revolte started out with a rather slow beginning, that had me very conflicted. However, once I got farther into the book things started to REALLY kick-off and got so much better! I got hooked on the story and binge-read the rest of the book in one evening for 3 hours because I couldn’t stop reading it 😱 Overall, I feel like it’s worth it to give the book a chance despite the slow pace in the beginning, because it has such a great magic system, strong female leads, amazing female friendships and heart-melting romance (and so much more) to offer 💕
Things I liked
The secondary characters really shine ➽ Literally everyone has an intriguing character, depth, and their own motivations, making this a book that does secondary characters incredibly well and is a great example of not only the main character’s getting the spotlight. Here are some of the great characters that we got to see (and that truly gave me some power squad vibes) 🥰
- Charles 💕 A comte and the apprentice of Physician Laurence, he’s one of Emilie’s fellow students, though his rank allows him to be a magician and not a hack. He’s very intelligent, kind of cocky and has a great sense of humor, which often also becomes quite snarky. I loved Charles, he’s the perfect amount of snark but also caring and I liked that we saw him discussing how being trans in this world affected him, prompting him to want to make a change.
- Estrell Charon 💕 A powerful diviner born into a common family who worked her way up and has now become the Royal Diviner. She’s Anette’s idol and an ambitious woman who managed to defy the odds, making her an inspiration for many people. She’s also very down-to-earth, loyal and understanding and hasn’t forgotten where she came from. I liked how she become the Mom friend in Anette’s friendship group and a great light of guidance.
- Yvonne 💕 An alchemist working in the kitchens of the school that Anette attends. She’s a black woman who initially hesitates to befriend Anette as she thinks her the comtesse Emilie and their relationship wouldn’t be proper. Nevertheless, both strike up a friendship (and some romantic feelings as well) that emphasize comfortable silence, understanding and a deep caring for each other.
- Coline 💕 Definitely a troublemaker, she’s the friend and fellow student of Anette, who can be quite blunt and snippy but genuinely cares about her friends. She expresses her caring through cynicism and humor, but can always be depended on to join in with an adventure. I was really intrigued by her and the fact that she’s got a good heart deep down made her likable.
- Isabella 💕 Another friend of Anette and a much quieter person than Coline. Isabelle cares deeply for her brother and is very worried about what will happen to him. She’s definitely someone that is empathetic and strong in a less obvious and quieter way.
- Rainier & Madeline 💕 They’re the fellow hacks that Emilie befriends when she first joins the school and she strikes up a friendship with both of them. I especially loved her friendship with Madeline, as they must stick together due to the fact that girls aren’t really wanted to work the noonday arts. I loved that they supported each other and Madeline is another determined character who – much like Emilie – didn’t want to be told what to do.
- Laurence 💕 He’s the king’s nephew and a powerful physician who takes on Emilie and Rainer as his new hacks. I loved that he played into the ‘absentminded professor’ trope and was really laid back/informal when it came to titles. It made the banter between his students and him so fun to watch!
The setting and magic system was interesting ➽ The worldbuilding was really good and offered a lot of great twists on Fantasy tropes. It’s inspired by the French Revolution and creates an atmosphere that is like a powder keg: one match and everything will explode. The concept of magic is that there are two branches of magic: the noonday and midnight arts that are connected to two entities called Mistress Moon and Lord Sun. While the noonday arts are connected to alerting the body, the midnight arts include scrying and divining. I like the different attributes associated with the magic and how there was a realistic cost: channeling magic through yourself is wearing down the body. The longer and the more you do it, the weaker you get, until you die. That’s why noble and important magician use hacks (= other people who take the brunt of the cost for magic) to channel their magic, so they can live longer. However, most hacks are commoners and the exploitation of them is huge, adding to the already unstable political climate in the book that sees nobles buying themselves longer lives at the expense of the common folk. The book also touched upon how stifling the system of the arts can be as girls are supposed to do the midnight arts (as they are considered ‘weaker’ and wear down the user more slowly) and boys are supposed to do the noonday arts (as this includes both altering the body and battle magic, it’s seen as the stronger magic and unseemly for girls). There are definitely critique at the way we often think in binary systems and how it can prevent people from growing if they are constantly put in boxes. I LOVED that the author touched upon how such a gender-specific system not only was rooted in sexism but also became problematic for trans characters.
I liked seeing the journey of our two main characters ➽ The book is told in the alternating POV of the two girls that switch places and become involved in the rebellion going on in their country. I couldn’t even tell you who I liked better because both Anette and Emilie were great and interesting in their own way, often contrasting each other.
- I liked following Anette’s aspirations to become a commoner diviner like her big idol Esther and how she tried to fit into Emilie’s role as a proper lady in order to achieve her goals. She struggled a bit adjusting to a very different life and was critical of a lot of opinions that the nobles harbored, as she saw it from the perspective of a civilian. She never forgets what she left behind and it broke my heart to learn how much her family had disregarded her and what a deep scar a loss had caused her. I was rooting for Anette to fulfill her potential and realize that she was so much more than people had been telling her, as she can do anything if she sets her mind to it. She often struggles with feeling out of place, but she also demonstrates bravery and masters the midnight arts, that are so falsely considered to be weak.
- Meanwhile, Emilie has always been told that she’s to be a ‘proper lady’ and not to engage in the noonday arts. However, when she sets out to become a hack in order to do something meaningful, she also faces a lot of sacrifices as it’s no easy job and wears down her body a lot. She can be quiet clever and a bit cocky too, but has a good heart and a great determination to do right. I liked that Emilie acknowledged her own privilege as a Noble numerous times throughout the book and admitted that she sometimes saw herself in the savior role, something she challenged later on as she saw how selfish that could be. Her willingness to grow really made her an enjoyable character to follow around even if she could be brash at times.
Seeing the political drama of the rebellion unfold was interesting ➽ Like I said, once I got out of the slow beginning, things started to pick up and we got to see more of the politics going on in the world. There’s a rebellion brewing as the common folk is unhappy with being used as hacks (to bear the cost of the magic for the royals) and generally being disregarded by the kingdom. A group called Laurel is taking the initiative to protest via posters and actions, prompting people to join them that are unhappy with the magic system and the unhealthy habits that have been built up over decades. Uncovering who is behind Laurel and how the crown is reacting to being challenged was interesting and got really intense in the last quarter of the book. I couldn’t put down the book, because so many things were happening that kept me on the edge of my seat. I thought that the politics and rebellion plotlines were easy to follow and very well woven together, but still held some unexpected twists in the end! As this is a standalone Fantasy, I also liked the ending: it as satisfying, still emphasized the cost of a rebellion (sacrifices are made and there is a cost 😭) and gave us a good conclusion to all the plot and character arcs.
There were many amazing character dynamics explored. ➽ I am SO here for all the healthy relationships! Be it platonic or romantic there is a lot of understanding and respect between the characters. First of all, there were some strong female friendships and absolutely no unnecessary girl hate grouped around competition or boys. Instead, all the girls were working to support each other and the conflicts that happened were focused on their own secrets they keep. Anette is basically living at an all-girl magician school and has a strong bond with her roommates Isabella and Coline, as well as the other students and her mentor. Meanwhile, Emilie sticks together with the only other female hack Madeline and instead of seeing each other as competition, they have the others back. As for the romantic relationships, they both unfolded slowly and I appreciated that they didn’t take over the story (though part of me wants more of it because both couples were cute). Anette falls in love with another girl and their scenes are so soft, it truly made me happy how comfortable they were around each other. The book also discusses Annete’s asexuality and her partner is very respectful 💗 Emilie falls for another student and they have the best banter, is honestly made me so happy! They had great chemistry and the slow burn almost killed me. There was also consent about kissing, and I wish to see that way more often in books! I wish we’d seen more of Emilie and Anette’s friendship in the book (we did get them talking through scrying, but due to the plot they didn’t spend much time together), but I like how much they cared about each other.
“Sometimes, the worst times, things happen and there’s no reason to it at all, and all our little plans and artistries leave us with nothing but a pyre full of ash and head full of memories blowing away in the wind.”
The Only Thing I didn’t like
Sadly, I struggled with the beginning so much. ➽ I feel like the book and I started off on the wrong foot, as my first impression wasn’t too well. The big starting point is the main character swapping lives but unfortunately happened in a way that was inorganic. It doesn’t make much sense to me that Emilie would go up to this girl she’s just seen (and knows nothing about) and introduce herself as a Noble (in this bad political climate) and expect her to switch lives. Similarly, we get why Anette wants to escape her life, but she’s not the least bit skeptical of this strange offering, something too good to be true. The inciting incident was just too convenient to me and it felt like it happened only to kick off the plot and not because it made sense.
IN CONCLUSION. ➽ I love this book, rarely does a first impression change, but Belle Révolte managed to hook me in! The beginning might be slow for some readers, but please give this book some more time, as it has so MUCH good to offer and shows how important it is to write an inclusive fantasy world!!
Are you going to read Belle Révolte? What is your favorite book featuring revolutions? ✨