Surprise book review time!
Title: Belle Révolte
Author: Linsey Miller
Summary: 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.
Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
CW: Violence, murder, gore, medical neglect, abuse, classism, family deaths, drowning
I’ve been excited to read Belle Révolte since I heard about it and been even more excited since I learned it had a biromantic ace spec lead. Reader, I adored it and read it through as quickly as I could. (I may have read one chapter and fallen over myself in my haste to text a friend to preorder it right now.)
First up, though, a note on the magic system because I really want to talk about that briefly. You see, in this setting there are two different ‘types’ of magic: the Midnight arts and the Noonday arts and the divide we see initially is presented as a binary divide: the Midnight arts are for women (and deal with illusions and appearances), the Noonday arts are for men (and deal with physical reality such as healing, but also warfare). This is not, however, how the magic actually works. I just wanted to stress that because so many of us are so used to a system like this being tied to biology and it really isn’t here. There’s a really neat plot strand where the social construct that divided magic this way gets discussed and criticised too!
Anyway! Emilie and Annette decide to switch places because this story is as much inspired by The Prince and the Pauper as it is the French revolution and it’s just so much fun. Though it doesn’t explicitly use the terms, it’s very clear in the on-page discussions that Annette is biromantic asexual. They’re a little heavy-handed for me personally, but they’re delightful and would’ve meant so much to me as a teen. While it includes some moments of people not quite understanding asexuality, it is overall a positive portrayal with no overt aphobia. (That said, I hope the final manuscript addresses the one microaggression against aromantic asexual people that slipped through in one of Annette’s comments.)
Though the voices between Emilie and Annette were too similar for me to really settle into the first person narration, both are compelling narrators and I greatly enjoyed exploring Demeine through their eyes. I especially enjoyed Emilie’s perspective, but that’s at least partially because “compassionate rich person learns poor people have vastly different realities and needs than they expected and actively works to learn how to do better” is a narrative I greatly enjoy.
Also Emilie is arrogant as heck and she gets to be. Sure, she gets called out on it (rightfully), but it’s not presented as because women aren’t allowed to be arrogant. Annette’s wry commentary on the ostentation (and her clashes with her tutors) are delightful as well and watching her background slowly unfold and her self-confidence grow at the same time was wonderful.
There’s also an overarching plot of revolution. Annette and Emilie both, individually, get caught up in a rebellion against the rich who squander their wealth while the people starve and watching their paths converge on that point was a delight as well, though I would have appreciated a little more focus on the rebellion itself so the reveals in the later half felt a bit more… I guess earned is a good word?
On top of all that: this book is incredibly queer. There’s the major f/f relationship between Annette and, well, you’ll see. There’s the cis/trans relationship (which I’m only not reading as a QPR because Miller’s not described it as such), there are several clearly trans and nonbinary secondary characters who just get to be. There’s a secondary f/f relationship that also gets explored and. Just. I knew this book was queer going into it, but I didn’t know it was this queer or that it was this effortlessly queer.
Overall, I highly recommend this book and I’m looking forward to getting a copy of my own when it’s out!