In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie).
When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.
The Court of Miracles had some impressive marketing shoes to fill, I don’t think I have ever ridden the hype train so hard! As release day drew closer it became clear that I was one of many who had put this book high upon a pedestal. I read it as part of a buddy read which has really helped to solidify my thoughts for this review but my pedestal has hit a giant wobble as I found The Court of Miracles to be a book which at its heights was dazzling, but at its lows became baffling and muddled.
Kester Grant has created a wonderfully dark and complex underworld which is the focal point of the story. Our morally grey protagonist (always the best kind!) Nina finds herself embraced by the Thieves Guild at an early age, she is the Guild’s darling with her ability to get the most coveted of prizes, but ultimately she is biding her time and playing the long game to rescue her sister who has been callously sold to the Flesh Guild by their father. She is singularly focused and despite distractions she never lets go of that driving force. I found the characterisation of the Guild Masters to be well imagined, they are often portrayed as creepy and terrifying and I found that I didn’t know who to trust out of even the most genuine sounding of them, there are some interesting allegiance switches to keep an eye out for! Whilst Paris is an established world, great attention to detail was given to the construction of the Guilds and the Court itself, a really atmospheric feeling and Kester Grant is talented at really sinking deep into the atmospherics, painting both an almost cloying and choking feel for the gutters yet an exuberant and almost extravagant feel for some of the Guilds that hold the streets together.
The heist elements, and I do love a heist, were well written and fast paced, Nina’s time in the Chaetelet was my favourite and brought a gleeful smile as the plan unfolded. This was Nina at her focused best and she was wonderful to read. Unusually where some books have a typically slower middle act, The Court of Miracles bucked that trend and in fact formed my favourite section of the book. I felt completely drawn into the guilds and I adored getting to know all their little quirks and rules as Nina circles through them to garner help on her quest. The ghostly forgotten children of the streets of Paris who form the Guild of Beggars, was starkly heartbreaking in that they were the most feared purely through their sheer numbers. I also found it refreshing that Kester Grant didn’t shy away from spanning long passages of time and it often left me fearing that Nina’s quest was become a lost cause
The parts of the story were wonderfully linked and prefaced with extracts of Kipling, the way the extracts were woven into the book were joyful. Each interpretation becoming strikingly clear and less cryptic as the story went on, I found this to be a unique and imaginative twist.
Whilst I initially found the parallel of the revolution running alongside of, and sometimes intertwining with, Nina’s story exciting, for me it quickly became a heavy chain around the stories’ neck. The closing stages felt like book was being pulled in too many directions and none of them getting the full attention they deserved. Sections taking place in the palace felt tedious at times, with Nina simply recounting lists of things she could see and quite honestly, I felt that these were sections the book could have done without. At it’s core this is the story of Nina rescuing her sister from the clutches of the evil Tiger whilst traversing the tricky honour codes of the guilds, but he revolution element just diluted that so much with distractions and an ever expanding cast of characters which I started to find hard to keep track of. Ettie was not a character that I particularly connected to either, I know Cosette features heavily in the Les Mis story but I kind of felt her reason for being in this story was somewhat shoehorned.
Whilst there were huge parts of this story that I enjoyed, and when I was in these parts I just flew through the pages, I just felt there was a lot that felt muddled and rushed and dare I say anti climactic at times.