Enchantée by Gita Trelease // The Most Well-Written YA Book I've Read in a Long Time

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians...

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she's playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns…
Living in Paris in 1789 for a young woman can be glamorous or it can be dangerous. After losing her parents to smallpox, it is up to Camille to step up and support her sick sister while making sure her brother doesn't use all their money up for booze and gambling. She uses la magie or magic to turn metal objects into money. They only last a short amount of time so she can't shop at the same place twice which increasingly has her acting reckless.

In a desperate attempt to save her sister and herself from having to become prostitutes (a known by product for women who have no other means for money during this time) after her brother takes almost all of their earnings, she goes to the Palace of Versailles. She does this with a dark magic that glamours her reddish hair and overly thin body that scream hunger and poverty. This way she can look like an aristocrat just wasting time gambling her money away when in fact she can swindle the aristocrats with magic. There she falls in with some of the elite, a rag tag group of socialites who welcome Camille a.k.a. Cécile Descharlots, Baroness de la Fontaine into their fold. Another group, when she is herself, has also welcomed her in. Mainly Lazare, a balloonist and Camille's love interest. With Lazare she can be herself. She feels light and happy. But, she lives in two separate worlds - one where she is a magic wielding thief who pretends to be someone she's not and the other world where she has her sister and a bright future planned out. These separate worlds cause tension with her sister and herself. One of them has got to give and with danger in Versailles, Camille has to decide which world she would rather risk losing.

The main character
Camille is a character waiting to shine. She's the daughter of a printer who posted revolutionary ideas for the time. He taught her how to print like her mother taught her magic. She clearly had a deep bond with her father and believes what he says about standing up for the people of Paris, who at the time are starving and living in poor conditions. Meanwhile Marie Antoinette has all these aristocrats entertaining her while they drink, dance, and gamble in the Palace of Versailles. They have more wealth and food than she could ever dream about. She's the one who has to take charge and use magic, a painful and sorrowful magic, in order for her family to have the basics - food and a home. She bravely rushes into situations others can't or won't. She also develops this addiction to magic and gambling. Something she was warned against - using too much magic - by her mother. She was a fantastic lead who I'm not sure fully learned her lesson about magic. However, she did learn some crucial life lessons by the end of her story. I found her to be well flawed while also having some amazing traits that made her a wonderful main character.

The siblings
Alain is a gambler. He's lost all sense of dignity with his addiction. He becomes this dark twisted character. A shadow of his former self according to Camille's recollections of their childhood. It's interesting how they both deal with addiction. It makes sense because magic could easily become an addiction and it runs in the family.

Sophie is a sickly girl who has a talent for sewing hats and making designs. Like her brother, she isn't often seen in the story, but makes some choices that bring her closer to her sister.

Image by Rafal Holes

The love interest
"Even beneath the soot and dirt, he was ridiculously handsome, with his warm, copper-brown skin and glossy ebony hair. High, finely cut cheekbones set off his deep-brown eyes, which were fringed with lashes a girl might envy. Black, expressive eyebrows curved above them; a scar skipped through the left one, slicing it in half. But what was most striking about him was that his whole face was animated with a kind of light that made him the most alive thing in the landscape. As if an artist, sketching out the scene had used a gray pencil to draw everything except one figure, n which he'd lavished his richest paints."
Lazare is such a fantastic love interest with his own clear background, voice, perspectives, and wants. Readers will come to know him gradually throughout the story since the romance is slow and sweet. There is a sense of worry that Camille feels that Lazare must not feel the same way about her as she does him. There are some misunderstandings played into the story that make everything with the two of them all the more interesting without being too melodramatic.

Social class
"Taking a deep breath, Camille joined the evening crowds thronging the arcaded walk of the duc d'Orleans' home, the Palais-Royal. She had no powder for her hair, nor her pale green dress, so she made do with her second-best, the chocolate-striped one that she could no longer fill out. Not that anyone here would notice. This was a place where anything went. Like his guests, the king's cousin loved a good entertainment. And like his guests, he needed money -- so he'd opened the arcades an invited everyone in. Here there was no etiquette nor police constables, only the duc's own men and their own kind of laws."
Camille's descent into the rich side of Paris is very intriguing. Like all the themes Trelease writes about - it's subtle and tastefully added into the story. During this time, like I mentioned earlier, there is a divide between rich and poor in France. Camille gets to live in the shoes of a Baroness. She gets to see the other side of the coin. Although the friends she makes aren't so bad, there are a few moments and comments that make her raise an eyebrow... and some words. There is a sense that the poor are less than them. There is a sense of selfishness. Why would they want to change things for the better? Why mess with the status quo?

Body image
"Oh," said the woman, her face quickly brightening from disappointment into politeness, "I thought you were someone else!"
And she was. In the wall of mirrors, Camille spotted her own reflection among the crowd of courtiers. No wonder the noblewoman had been mistaken. In the glass, the bruised, freckled, red-haired girl was gone. In her place stood a lovely and haughty aristocrat, her skin creamy pale, her storm-blue silk dress magnificent, her ruby lips curved just as they should be. Footmen bowed as she passed, men nodding as if they knew her, until she reached the end of the room, where she found an empty staircase and began to climb, not rushing, as if she did it every day.
This noblewoman act to be haughty and better than everyone else translates as prejudice for those who are not wealthy. This takes on the theme of body image as well. There is an expectation to look a certain way and act a certain way. Take Camille, her red hair isn't seen as beautiful, Lazare's skin color is tolerated because his father has money, and so on. There is an expectation there that Camille leans towards. She avoids seeing her real self because of it.

Race
"And that means I have choices?" Lazare swallowed hard. "Look at my skin and tell me I have choices. Look at my clothes."
He pulled off his wig, grabbed hold of his own hair. Its beautiful inky darkness absorbed all the light. "Vous voyez? No French nobleman has hair like this. This is my mother's hair. My Indian hair. Didn't you here what Seguin called me? Sauvage. And the rest of them?" he asked, angrily. "The courtiers ask me if I'm the son of Tipu Sultan. They ask me if, when I'm 'at home,' I ride on elephants, and if a person can make his fortune simply by collecting huge pearls from the sand in Pondichéry. They think me exotic, like a tiger in the king's menagerie. The ladies covet my father's fortune, but only as long as I wear a nobleman's disguise.
Like I said before, the theme's Trelease covers are added in so well. The way she talks about race in this time is subtle. Lazare being half Indian and half Caucasian has made him have to deal with others seeing him as less but tolerable because of his father's money. Camille sees Lazare for himself which is what makes their romance so wonderful. They are able to see past class and race in a time that that is what everyone sees.

Gay rights
Camille meets someone who is gay in a time where his love and him have to keep it hidden. You'll notice when reading this story that most things, even amongst the richest people, have to be kept hidden for fear of someone finding out. I thought this topic was added in well which is I known, something I keep repeating. But it's true! I'll leave it at that or I'll give something away...

Freedom of the Press
"When a writer - a printer! - can be imprisoned for libel, he'd said, pacing the room in frustration, for upsetting the peace, criticizing the church, or besmirching someone's honor, what else is left? There will always be something that offends someone. Bah! One day I will print what I like.
Camille's father was a big proponent on free speech and freedom of the press which was ingrained in Camille's mind. There is tension and changes looming in the future of Paris. Changes in which may propel our lead character to make her own stand in the future since she is a printer's daughter. That's what gets me really excited about the next two books - seeing Camille's talents shine.

Addiction
"Sometimes she'd catch a glimpse of herself at Versailles, reflected in a mirror or a window, and be struck by how thin her skin seemed. The way a piece of paper, scraped over and over to remove old ink, slowly becoming translucent.
Ghostly. Spirit-thin."
Magic, especially the dark magic that Camille performs, takes something from you. It needs your sorrow for it to work and something else more sinister. You can easily get addicted to that magic and it'll drain you before you ever notice. Camille's struggle with addiction was increasingly worrisome throughout the story. I still don't know if she's learned from events that occurred. I still see mistakes happening in her future.

Image by Paul Dufour

The writing
So many quotes in this review for a reason. Trelease's writing is beautiful. Honestly, I was surprised while reading this that it was YA. It was so unlike any YA I've ever read. The romance didn't get in the way, so many wonderful topics were discussed, and everything was written so beautifully too. There needs to be more YA like Enchantée in the future.

Negatives
The story was slow going. If you aren't interested in that this might not be for you. I also would have liked more perspectives to be shown (like the villain) as well as more description of the magic. Where does it come from? Why are there only three types? Lastly, everything wrapped up too fast and nicely. This story was long, slow, and beautifully written but things happened that I think could have been continued on to the next story instead of rushed.

Short review
Highly impressive read. I'm surprised this is marketed for teenagers because it has more of an adult feel although our main character is I believe 18 in this story. I enjoyed how everything came together and the way race, addiction, and social class were spoken about in a thoughtful way. It is a very slow going story so reading this book over time was essential in assisting in my enjoyment of this story. For once, the romance wasn't the central theme in a young adult story. I wish there was more diving into certain elements of the story like more into the villain's background, the magic (it was written about a bunch but I would have liked even more), and other elements. It would have been nice to see a POV chapter or two of the villain, her brother, and even a moment where Camille speaks with her grandmother (an aristocrat who disowned her mother after marrying a printer). The ending was good but wrapped up a little too nicely. I thought this was a standalone but luckily for me it is not so hopefully there will be more of the elements I wanted in the next two books. Overall, this story sucked me in and was told beautifully. Such a wonderful debut!

Have you read Enchantée? What did you think?
What was the last book you read that impressed you?

Comments

  1. This does sound like a fantastic read. It's already on my TBR list, but I might just have to move it up after reading your rave review!

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  2. Wow, this was a seriously in-depth review! I'm glad you liked it. I've been eyeing this book at the bookstore and the library for a while now and I would love to read it. I don't mind slow moving books, so I think I'd like it.

    Also, don't you think that lots of YA books are more adult now? They're longer, more complex, have older characters, and have a more "grown-up" feel to them. I wonder if publishers will ever decide to split YA into Young Adult (ages 16+) and Teen (ages 13+). It would make things easier when I'm trying to decide if a book is meant for my kids or myself, haha!

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  3. I haven't read Enchantee- but it sounds interesting. I recently read a well-written, but slower paced, book written about the same time period. I learned a lot and found it interesting- but it wasn't fast moving at all. I am glad to hear you enjoyed this one so much. Thanks for sharing your review. :)

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