The Court of Miracles
by Kester Grant
YA Historical Fiction
Expected publication June 2, 2020, by Knopf Children’s
Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables has inspired all sorts of adaptations since its publication in 1862, including the beloved musical of the same name. In Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s musical, the dynamic second half features tangled love stories, revolution, and Inspector Javert’s endless pursuit of Jean Valjean. One of the most beloved characters in the musical is Eponine, a young woman who has been taught to be a criminal by her father, and who is in love with a student revolutionary, Marius, who sees her as more of a little sister than a possible love interest and who realizes the depth of Eponine’s feelings only when it’s too late.
In British-Mauritian author Kester Grant’s debut, The Court of Miracles, Eponine (or Nina) takes center stage. In post-Revolutionary, post-Napoleonic era France, the royal family is back on the throne, and crueler than ever. Desperate to retain their power and prevent another revolution, the Queen goes to extreme lengths to ensure her family’s safety. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that below her feet is another Court that holds as much power as the royal family– the legendary Court of Miracles, an organization of thieves, smugglers, beggars, assassins, and other criminals who rule over Paris’s poorest people, the Wretched. These guilds rule the night and live by a law the prevents war among the people of the underworld.
Nina has been a member of the Guild of Thieves since she was a child, ever since her sister Azelma sent her to them to keep their father from selling them both to the dreaded Tiger, the Lord of the Guild of Flesh. For years, Nina has harbored a hatred of the Tiger and has made it her life’s goal to rescue her sister. But when her first plans to rescue go awry, Nina must enact a desperate and dangerous plan to keep her adopted sister, Cosette (or Ettie) safe from the Tiger. It is a plan that entangles her in a long-planned student revolt led by a descendant of the first revolutionaries, the dreaded Assassin’s Guild, and sends her to the royal palace where she comes face to face with the Queen of France herself.
“Sometimes Grantaire notices me in my corner and coaxes me into telling a story. Even St. Juste listens then. I never betray the secrets of the court, but I can keep them mesmerized for hours recounting the tales of my people. They hang on every word like thirsty men; I can keep them entertained until the sun rises. On those nights, I’ve gone to bed drunk on the feeling that I’ve been seen for the very first time.”
For those who think Eponine deserved better than the fate she was given in both the original book and the musical, The Court of Miracles is a dark delight. Kester Grant takes elements and characters from the original novel and the real history of France and weaves them into an intense and engaging story about a young, mixed-race cat burglar who has no illusions about the darkness and danger of the world around her, and learns to thrive in spite of it. But while Nina is a dangerous figure in her own right, she is not without her humanity. She cares deeply about the few people she lets in– perhaps too much, especially when it comes to dreamy, beautiful Ettie. It’s this care and concern for Ettie and for the Wretched as a whole that drives her to the extraordinary lengths she goes to. The Tiger is cruel beyond measure, and fear of him and his forces prevents the other Guild leaders from moving against him, but Nina knows that as long as he is in power, the Wretched will never be free from fear, no matter what unwritten laws bind the Court of Miracles.
While there are some issues with the pacing– a few events happen too quickly, without the lead-up that would give them their deserved weight– the overall effect of The Court of Miracles is a driving narrative that doesn’t give in entirely to darkness any more than it makes perfect saints out of sinners.
Grant’s plot is deceptively straightforward and like any heist story, even the primary point of view character isn’t about to tell the reader everything that is going on. Rather than feeling like a move to hoodwink the reader into falling for an improbable twist, Grant does it to bring in even more elements from her source material, and it makes Nina’s plan all the more believable. And while including a smattering of lyrics from the musical’s songs might feel like fan service, Grant is careful not to overdo it, making their inclusion more of a delight than an opportunity for eye-rolling.
Though The Court of Miracles is a debut, it reads like a novel written by an experienced writer, with a finale that will leave readers anxiously awaiting the next installment.
Thank you to NetGaley and Knopf Books for Young Readers for providing me a free eBook in exchange for an honest review.