Buzzed Books #90 by JD Langert
Gita Trelease’s Enchantée
Diving into the world of Gita Trelease’s Enchantée will bewitch you into wanting more, but fade over time like the magic of Camille’s dress.
Set in Paris, 1789, on the brink of the French Revolution, the story follows Camille Durbonne as she tries to navigate a world of thieves, revolutionaries, and magicians. After losing her parents to smallpox, it falls upon her to care for her sickly younger sister with no resources or help. Her one blessing, as well as curse, is her magic. With it, she can transform objects for a limited time, but the cost is her very life force. Driven to desperation after her abusive brother steals the last of their money, she uses forbidden magic to sneak into the treacherous Palace of Versailles. There, she gambles to change her fate, unaware of the darker games being played.
With a premise like that, I expected to be served a tale fit for a queen. And, for a while, Enchantée delivered. Within a dozen pages, I’d already been introduced to numerous world conflicts (the impending revolution, apathy of the queen for her starving subjects, recent famine) as well as problems closer to Camille’s own heart (her sick and worldly-naive sister, poverty, dead parents, life-sucking magic, and a knife-wielding psychopath for a brother). This combined with a dynamic first meeting with the mixed-blood love interest, Lazare, via runaway air balloon and dark warnings from her fellow gambler/magician, Chandon, I anticipated a delicious feast of conflict and peril. Yet… like the cake, it seems that was a lie.
Or at least, another sleight of hand from Camille herself. Not to say that the story was bad at any point, but lackluster as it fumbled with its own potential. What harmed Enchantée the most was the tradeoff of concrete goals and action for leisurely thought and the contemplation of past events. After solving Camille’s initial desire of getting enough money for rent, the story feels lost as for what to do next. While there would be references to a revolution brewing, Sèguin being a dark magician, and the looming threat of her brother, Camille seems rather unaffected. Sure, she was aware and concerned, but did very little to either deal or learn more about said issues. While I cannot fault Trelease for not putting Camille at the forefront of the French Revolution (no matter how that idea is set up with her father being a former revolutionary), there is still the expectation that if a problem is introduced in the story, the main character will play a role in trying to solve it. This is possible to do even without drastically changing history.
However, Camille doesn’t seem to play much of a role in anything. As charming as gambling aristocrats out of their money and playing hide-n-seek in the gardens is for hundreds of pages, it doesn’t scream an active or suspenseful storyline. Camille reveals her heroic intentions with, “I don’t know, but something is happening, Sophie. Perhaps something great, but perhaps something terrible. If we stay in Paris, and I start a press, I can do my part in telling the truth about it” (423). However, she remains on the edge of decision long enough for it to resolve before she does anything. While danger does eventually strike, it comes from a rather uninspired source and resolves too quickly with Camille benefiting from the conflict. Me personally, I stand by Vladimir Nabokov’s theory that “the writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree and throw rocks at them” rather than the way Trelease tosses vague threats at Camille.
The writing style both helped and harmed this impression. While wonderful in terms of recreating a vivid Paris during this time period, character thought and dialogue fell short on many occasions. Particularly with the main antagonist. “You and I–together we will rise. Victorious. We will be the court’s second monarchs, the King and Queen of Magic” (383). Given that this is the apparent reveal of the villain’s plans and motivations, it felt underwhelming and lacking in depth. Given Camille’s own indecisive sentiments, the antagonist’s lack of the solid plan further decreased the impact of the story.
However, there were times the writing hit all the right notes. “What if she told him her fingernails used to be like his? Would he believe her, in her silk dress and clean hands? It seemed like another life” (321). Given the gritty depth of hopelessness Camille felt earlier in the story, the reader is able to immediately sympathize with the street urchin while also feeling the strange dissonance of Camille’s new status. Yet, even here, I would want Camille to do something to honor that person she used to be instead of just lamenting how much she’s changed.
For all it that could be improved, I would still recommend Enchantée to anyone with a love for France, history, and empathetic characters. Many novels that deal with revolution often frame it with one side being irrevocably good and the other undeniable evil. Trelease strikes a unique balance as she guides Camille to care for the aristocrats she befriends as their glass houses shatter around them while keeping her own revolutionary beliefs. While I wish Camille hadn’t permanently sat on the fence as to what to do, her open-mindedness and compassion in spite of her bitter life was as refreshing as it was enlightening.
JD Langert is pursuing her MFA in Genre Fiction at Western Colorado University. With interests in both screenwriting and novels, she’s been published in John Hopkins Imagine Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and other publications. Feel free to visit her website here.