There was so much potential here but it wasn’t achieved. Maybe huge fans of Les Misérables will enjoy The Court of Miracles but to the average reader everything is so disjointed and confusing it’s hard to ever get into the story. There are unexplained time jumps, sudden changes in motivations, and generally inexplicable plot points which just can’t be believed. I’ve heard so much hype about this book and I can’t see how it’s justified.
The protagonist, Nina (or Eponine), was born into poverty, the daughter of the Master of Beasts in the Guild of Thieves – one of the Guilds making up the Court of Miracles, a collection of the undesirable members of 1800s Paris society. The Court has its own laws and own hierarchy, but the laws are being abused. Nina’s elder sister, Azelma, has been sold by their father into prostitution, and Nina will do anything to get her back – even if that means going up against the Master of the Guild of the Flesh, the dreaded Tiger himself.
It’s a great premise, and the backdrop – France if the French revolution failed – is equally brilliant. Unfortunately, the story never gets going. It keeps jumping with no explanation. Nina has just joined the Guild of Thieves, then she’s been there two months, then she’s been there two years. New characters are introduced with minimal explanation and justification and the reader is expected to care. It all feels fragmented and unbelievable, and it’s hard to come to care about anyone or their motivations when their motivations keep suddenly switching. All the major characters from Les Misérables cameo, but while this likely appeals to existing fans, the lack of explanation is confusing to everyone else.
Nina is fine as a main character – she’s brave but reckless, smart but not all powerful – although she’s ‘the best Cat (thief) ever’ with no explanation or on-page training, which is a trope that’s a little tired. Her care for her sister – and her friend Ettie, later on – is heartwarming, although the sudden shift in focus from her sister to Ettie is slightly jarring. Equally, Ettie’s switch from helpless little mouse to capable looks-out-for-herself lockpicker was great but never really explained. Essentially, all the characters were great, but all their growth took place off-page. I kept waiting for things to happen on-screen, but all we were shown were action scenes or the scheming of the Court. I wanted character development that was shown, not changes that were told.
There’s no romance in this, which was great – not all books need romance – but everyone seemed to be in love with Nina anyway. A prince? Check. An assassin? Check. The head of a lovable French resistance movement? Seriously, Nina spends all her time stealing from people, crawling around in the sewers, or thinking about either her sister or Ettie – why do these people love her? It would be a stronger book with none of that at all.
I feel like this has been a very negative review. It isn’t a dreadful book – it’s fine. A very quick read, plenty of action, plenty of originality, a brilliantly diverse cast. It just doesn’t feel finished. It’s a rough draft that could have become a diamond but has been left unpolished. I expected more, especially given the hype, and I’m just disappointed.
From what I’ve seen, my opinions are in the minority and lots of people love this – which is great! But personally, I can’t recommend it – unless you’re looking for spin-off Les Misérables fanfiction.
Published by Harper Collins
Hardback: 18th June 2020