Belle Revolte, YA LGBT+ Fantasy by Linsey Miller
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½ (4.5 stars)
I was incredibly affected and impressed by Linsey Miller’s debut Mask of Shadows. Assassins who actually did real murder—you wouldn’t believe what an impossible request this can be—a gender fluid protagonist, and politics galore. So when the publisher contacted me to see if I was interested in an ARC of her newest book, I said yes and thank you! I didn’t turn out to be such a gibbering fan over Belle Revolte, but I think the majority of Miller’s audience will love it.
Belle Revolte is split evenly between two protagonists on the same side of a conflict but who offer different tools to overcome the corruption that is tearing their kingdom apart. Emilie des Marais is a comtesse who wants to study medicine and become a magical physician, but is railroaded by her mother into a more traditionally feminine education in illusion and divination. In the first chapter, Emilie constructs a kind of switch with Annette Boucher, a girl she sees in the market who happens to look like her—but the story is not content to be a tale of swapped identity in magic schools.
Terminology is fun. Magic is divided between the midnight and noonday arts, magic users are called artists. The names are all French, with a very slight French air to the hierarchy and other proceedings.
The major focus is actually on the political conflict. Magic takes a physical toll on those who use it, to the degree that hacks, people who act as a conduit or buffer for artists of higher social class, suffer and die young. Both Annette and Emilie dislike this practice, but Annette is understandably more aggrieved by it.
They both wind up working for the rebellion/resistance in their own ways, which is when the book really picks up. Subterfuge!
For the most part, the dual narrative works. At worst, the steady swapping each chapter—which I think is 1:1 throughout the whole book, but I might be misremembering—slows the pacing or necessitates some re-reading to get back up to speed. But for me, Annette didn’t really work as a character, so in spite of her part of the story being the one I liked best, I had some trouble getting through her chapters.
Annette is characterized almost solely through external reaction. She’s put off by the excess of the wealthy and resentful of the way non-aristos are treated. But she isn’t a great revolutionary until the plot begins to call for it. Her arc as a midnight artist is choppy—she keeps saying “I can’t divine” even when she’s doing it all the time. There’s a plot/character reason for it, but since I didn’t understand why she kept saying that, it didn’t feel like a reveal to me.
The communication is awesome. The inevitable moments when Emilie and Annette have to stop their respective charades and confess their lies are great. Miller is amazing at constructing characters outside of the protagonists who have lives, thoughts, and drives of their own. In particular, the mentor characters Estrel Charron and Laurence du Montimer, as well as Emilie’s mother. Emilie thinks certain things about her mother that don’t bear out exactly as she sees the situation because she isn’t fully aware of her mother as a whole person, and I love it.
There is some romance. On the surface, it seems like precisely what I want, i.e., super gay. Romantic ace, lesbians, transgender love interest. But in actual practice and what content is on the page, there isn’t a lot of it and it’s pretty bloodless. There’s just too much else going on, and even when there are details, the style in which they are rendered doesn’t stand out against any of the other relationships. Which, while something of a shame, is WORLDS BETTER than being unintentionally problematic or an empty promise. The romance in this book is neither of those things, rejoice.
Overall, Belle Revolte is an excellent drama with bloody battles, discussions about worth and love, and an interesting magical world with consequences. The story can be a little confusing, but the ending is entirely satisfying. In particular, I recommend this book to readers who want to see more diverse female characters and good queer representation. Nonbinary people appear both named and unnamed, as evenly as male and female characters. All of the queer rep is wonderfully done, leaning into visibility and acceptance rather than flashy, under-baked LOOK AT HOW PROGRESSIVE I AM-ing, which I’m frankly sick of.
Again, thank you to the publisher for the ARC, and this is my honest review. Hopefully I didn’t forget any of the nice things I thought while reading it.