Genre: Historical Fantasy Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 5 stars Series: standalone
1768. Charlotte arrives in Naples to marry a man she has never met. Two years later, her sister Antoine is sent to France to marry another stranger. In the mirrored corridors of Versailles, they rename her Marie Antoinette.
But the sisters are not powerless. When they were only children, Charlotte and Antoine discovered a book of spells – spells that seem to work, with dark and unpredictable consequences.
In a world of vicious court politics, of discovery and dizzying change, Charlotte and Antoine use their secret skills to redefine their lives, becoming the most influential women of the age.
But every spell requires a sacrifice. As love between the sisters turns to rivalry, they will send Europe spiralling into revolution.
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
If, like me, you loved A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAGICIANS, but wished there were more women in it, then THE EMBROIDERED BOOK is for you! This historical, political fantasy follows two daughters of Empress Maria Theresa as they are sent to be wives and secure alliances – and get embroiled in a covert war for the control of magic that becomes entangled in revolution.
I love historical fantasy that takes real life events and add a new subtext to it, shows it through a new lens. “Historical” is not set dressing here, it’s a key part of the premise – this is the story of the sisters in the roughly twenty years leading up to the French Revolution (and the opening year or so.) I thoroughly appreciated that it was the story of the sisters, not just Marie Antoinette. She often gets the attention, overshadowing many figures like Charlotte.
I think I did prefer Charlotte, partly because she felt “new” but also because she was involved in the politics more directly. Give me women punching in the political arena any day (in both subtle and less subtle ways!)
I also really loved the way the magic was used here. Magic is practiced covertly, but the magicians are split into factions over what should be done with magic and who should have it. Those factions split further over the course of the book as they get involved in the revolutions. It was a really neat way of bringing the magic into the story (and also some of the ways it altered the events as we know them were WOWOWOW! I shan’t say which was my favourite, but you’ll probably know it when you get to it!)
Magic is comprised of spells that anyone can do, IF they’re told the spells and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices. And the way the spells have been recorded mean the sacrifices aren’t always clear. It made it into a magic system that was both really regimented with clear rules (a “hard” magic system) but also had some flexibility in it that gave it some leeway for emotional punch. It just worked so well within the politics and tensions of the time, and gave a reason why it was not known to everyone.
I kept wanting to charge through the book, devour the words, as it is the sort of book that feels so uniquely designed for me, but the book did not want me to do that. It wanted me to savour it, draw out the reading experience over several days to appreciate and take it all in. And it was absolutely worth it!