A teenage alchemist and a disgraced royal bastard scheme their way through a magical reimagining of pre-Revolutionary Paris.
Mirabelle is a provisional member of her mother’s Shadow Society, an underground group of nobles working to overthrow Louis XIV. A talented alchemist, she can create potions to ease suffering or cause horrific death. Unbeknownst to her—and to her horror and dismay—the Society uses her skill to assassinate the king. Josse is one of the Sun King’s illegitimate children, resentful of his half brother the dauphin, and in the chaos caused by his father’s death, he flees Versailles with his siblings. Told in alternating perspectives, Mira and Josse try to stay alive, to quell the chaos plaguing Paris, and to use their strengths and abilities for good instead of ill. An author’s note discusses the real-life Affair of Poisons and Catherine Monvoisin, called a “Duchess Among Witches” and portrayed here as a sinister, heartless villain. There’s enough in here to interest readers with a taste for fantastical historical fiction, alchemy, and political machinations, but flat characterization and a flatter romance keep this from a broader appeal. Descriptions of mysterious illnesses, deadly smoke creatures, and villainous nobles liven the story but can only carry the uninspired writing so far. Two minor characters are described as brown-skinned; others are assumed white.
Based on true events, Thorley’s debut is somewhat forgettable but shows promise nonetheless. (author’s note, additional reading) (Historical fantasy. 14-18)