Author: Kester Grant
Release date: June 4, 2020
Publisher: Knopf/Random House (US), HarperVoyager (UK)
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
1828 and the citizens of Paris still mourn in the wake of their failed revolution. Among them, in the dark alleys and crumbling cathedrals of the city, the most wretched have gathered into guilds of thieves, assassins – and worse. Together they are known as The Court of Miracles.
Eponine has lost more than most. When her father, Thénardier, sells her sister to the Guild of Flesh she makes a promise to do anything she can to get her sister back, even if that means joining the Court of Miracles, the very people keeping her sister a slave.
Eponine becomes perhaps the greatest thief the Court has ever known, finding a place among them and gaining another sister, Cosette. But she has never forgotten the promise she made, and if she’s to have any hope of saving one sister, she will have to betray the other.
Adhering to my absolute policy of honesty, I dived into this book a skeptic. I had a friend telling me the book did not work for them and thus I feared. After all, I had been no stranger to having massively hyped up books being a let-down for me.
Now, how did The Court of Miracles fare?
Addressing that Les Misérables and Six of Crows comparison
So it was no secret for me that this was going to be a Les Misérables book. That was no question. The revolution had failed, the royalty reigns still while crushing the citizens of Paris with their iron boots, and the most wretched have no choice but to hide in the shadows as part of a Court of Miracles comprised of 9 guilds according to their “profession.”
Now this was an interesting angle, I thought, to see the characters we’re familiar with configured as members of this *criminal* court. It was a unique configuration considering that the Court of Miracles (cours de miracles) did exist until it was cleared across the French Revolution and the Haussmannisation of the area in the 19th century. Given that the Revolution failed, it would make sense for the Court to remain active and even grow to become a full-fledged crime organization. It was an even more exciting premise to have an underrated character Eponine (Nina) Thénardier being thrust to centre-stage in a high-stakes criminal underworld. Now with this Les Misérables element thrust into a world of criminal shadows, it would not be a hard feat to compare this premise to Six of Crows.
Was it Les Misérables or Six of Crows? Apparently neither.
While this is indeed a heist story, the story did not focus on an ensemble – it was solely Nina’s story. The heist element, too, seemed to be somewhat overshadowed by the political intrigue that permeates the Court and the rising inequality that divides Paris in its darkest time. The story lacks the grandiose drama of Les Misérables, and it works for introducing the poisonous intrigue of both the Court and the royalty in the book. Instead, The Court of Miracles was more reminiscent of a darker, more poisonous retelling of The Jungle Book as the plot development in The Court of Miracles starts to parallel the trajectory of The Jungle Book.
What worked for me
- The cover. THAT COVER.
- I thoroughly enjoyed the grim imagery of failed revolution!Paris, and how it has affected Paris’s less fortunate. Often it borderlines to horror, and it evokes the perfect expression of shock, horror, resentment, and rage towards the royalty who remain absurdly privileged.
- The political intrigue of the Court of Miracles is fun to read as we get to know the rules amongst the criminal guilds and how every one moves across the chessboard.
- I noticed some The Jungle Book parallels; and trust me, the book is a lot more enjoyable reading from that angle. Some parallels are obvious, others not so – and if you’ve got TJB at the back of your head in some form, The Court of Miracles is a fun read.
- No magic! Or at least, no supernatural stuff that occurs in the book. It’s quite refreshing to see a fantasy book with no magical elements as this introduces some stakes to the story – no heroes or villains of ours can count on them to turn the tide any time, so they have to solely rely on their wits and skills. This perfectly fits the more political nature of the story.
- The ending. It introduced one of the more horrifying scenes and dark character arcs I’ve seen in Fantasy stories. Being a sucker for dark character arcs, The Court of Miracles manages to wiggle itself right into my alley.
- Romance? No time for that! I appreciate how despite the fact that Grant introduced us to not one, but three possible love interests, Nina does not bother with them beyond how they fit her purposes. I find this to be the logical approach as with everything coming her way in the sequels, nobody got time to get hitched!
Things that didn’t quite hit the mark for me
The Court of Miracles, despite its strengths, also has some things that kind of bothered me.
- Nina. Not only does she seem to excel in whatever she does, she seems to have an incredible stroke of luck as almost everything in the book plays out to her favour. People just owe her favours, and the setting for her heists are almost always perfect for her. There was little to no struggle in the action scenes. I found this to somewhat downplay the stakes of the story, and I admittedly enjoyed the parts where she has to struggle and her plans fall apart more than when her plans do succeed – because that’s where I see the true depth of Nina’s wits and skills. It’s when she’s forced to adapt with no favour to collect, no back-up plan, and no resources that her true skills shine and her reputation as the Black Cat of the Thieves Guild is justified. I hope to see more of these moments in the sequels.
- The ending. Surprisingly, Nina’s story with the main villain of The Court of Miracles ends in one book – leaving the overarching plot to expand to the royalty. While it makes sense to shift the focus to the true enemy of the people, I had greatly enjoyed this book’s villain and would have loved for him to be explored more in the book.
- I had said before that I loved how Nina seemed indifferent to her romantic interests. Alas, this comes with its flip-side: the romantic characters (especially the Dauphin and St. Juste) read somewhat two-dimensional. At least the ending sees them coming to their own roles in the story, promising diverse character arcs for us to sink our teeth into in the sequels.
- Not necessarily a con, but I think the book would benefit greatly from more imagery to really hammer in the grim reality of failed-revolution!Paris.
- In my utmost honest opinion, some of the narrative choices pertaining Les Misérables came out of the left field for me and I wasn’t quite able to grasp how much of a Les Misérables retelling The Court of Miracles is. The similarities to me seemed surface-level with the names, basic character traits, and revolution-setting. Fortunately, this was somewhat compensated by the fact that this book promises new takes on the characters and the overarching conflict that haunts them throughout the series.
Honestly, had The Court of Miracles been pitched as Les Misérables characters thrust into a dark retelling of The Jungle Book set in alternate Paris – I would’ve enjoyed the story from the get go. I came in expecting Les Misérables + Six of Crows and I got disappointed as the Les Misérables element seemed to come only from the characters namesakes and the heist element was overshadowed in favour of political intrigue. Once I reset my mindset and approached the book with The Jungle Book-retelling angle, I found myself enjoying the story a lot more as parallels started to become clearer to me and the perspective brought more clarity to the trajectory of the book’s arc.
The Court of Miracles may not be everyone’s story – but this aesthetically-pleasing Les Misérables+Jungle Book hybrid is a fun summer read that will grab you with its glittering yet grim world and its politics, and leave you wanting more.