A YA Fantasy Classic Retelling – Belle Revolte Review

So on Goodreads I gave Belle Revolte 3 stars, but my actual rating is 3.25/5. That may not seem like an important distinction, but it is to me. Belle Revolte is one of those books where the cover drew me in immediately. I mean, just look at it! It’s stunning, it’s like dripping donut glaze or something equally delicious. Couple that with a story about revolutionary-era inspired France, magic and a lifestyle switcheroo and Belle Revolte will probably be a cover-buy/insta buy for a lot of people.

I was super excited for Belle Revolte because it’s actually quite rare that we get given stand-alone fantasy YA books, so I was all about this. Honestly though I think that one book was enough for this world. I didn’t hate it – don’t get me wrong, but I just couldn’t love it as much as I wanted to either.

Belle Revolte is the first book that I’ve read by Linsey Miller, although I know that she’s written before. I’m still willing to give Linsey Miller another shot, because there’s definitely potential here, but Belle Revolte is lacking in…something.

Belle Revolte is loosely based during a revolutionary-era France where there’s a magic system in place that is segregated by the gender of the user. These are the Noonday arts, which are the more ‘masculine’ arts of medical magic and weaponry. There’s also the Midnight arts, which are the more ‘feminine’ arts which involve divination, scrying and the like. The interesting thing about the magic system in Belle Revolte is that the magic takes a physical toll on the user. I love stories where magic as legit consequences of use! In this book, magic physically breaks down the body of the user!

So the story of Belle Revolte centres on our two main characters; Emilie – a young noble woman who wants to study the Noonday arts but her mum is making her go to a Midnight arts finishing school. And then we have Annette, a young commoner who happens to look kinda like Emilie and who really, really really wants to go to the Midnight arts finishing school to be taught by her hero.

The two women cross paths and Emilie realises they can both get what they want if they switch lives – Annette goes to finishing school and Emilie can go gallivanting off to become a Noonday artist and practice medicine. This exchange happens immediately and both the girls discover more of who they are and get embroiled in a dangerous political revolution.

This exchange not only happens flawlessly, but within the first chapter or so. I had a bit of a hard time with this. Mostly because I, as a reader, had zero reason to really….care… why these girls wanted to swap lives so much because I hadn’t really had them established to me. I mean…there was no explanation as to how these girls – especially Annette – could imitate each other. Granted, Emilie didn’t have as hard of a premise of a time with it as Annette would have done. But, imitation meant death – and these girls just went “yep, sounds good to me!” and went with it…immediately? Sorry, I had some believability issues with that.

Let’s move on to characters, considering I’ve briefly touched on them already.  So Belle Revolteis a great big exploration of political commentary, classism and gender roles, and we get to discuss all of these through our main characters and the side characters. Unfortunately, as I’ve already said, the switcheroo happened very early in the story, so I didn’t really have a grasp on who was who from the outset – which isn’t good. On top of this I found that pretty much every single character lacked depth and could probably be swapped out with each other if it wasn’t for their representational aspects. I found myself re-reading paragraphs and flipping back to chapter headings to see who I was with more times than I would have liked.

But as previously mentioned, there is representation in Belle Revolte – which I know will make a lot of people happy. We have asexual, transgender, non-binary, bisexual and lesbian representation throughout the story, and whist that may seem like a lot for a small page count, but I have to admit that it never seems forced. I also liked that these were aspects of their personality, not their entire personality. Which is nice – too many books do that.

What did seem forced was the pacing and writing style. I found it quite difficult to get into the story a lot of the time, and I will fully admit that I was kinda confused by the plot and story for about 50% of the book. I don’t mean the first or second half, I mean that I drifted in and out of confusion throughout the entire book. I kinda gave up caring and just let myself go on with the confusion and hoped it would sort itself out in a few pages time.

Here’s another little nugget of honesty too – I nearly DNF’d this book at several points. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I finished it, but the temptation to DNF was strong at times, and it took me a while to finish it.

The mixture of lack of world-building, no fleshed out characters and weird pacing were major blockers for me. I think a big problem was that it felt like a lot of backstory was missing from the get-go.

But I think I’ve been a touch negative here, in my quest for honesty. Because it wasn’t all bad. There were some really good points too. Like I’ve said, this is a stand-alone YA fantasy and I think it’s done an admirable job of trying to fit in everything it has in the page count that it has. There’s also the representation.

The magic system was certainly interesting – I’ve not really seen much in the way of magic breaking down the user, so that was refreshing. The world had an attempt at complexity, which I appreciated too. The political intrigue was also something that added an extra little element to the plot.

All in all, Belle Revolte was an interesting stand-alone YA fantasy with an interesting magic system and a decent retelling of a classic ‘prince and the pauper’ tale. It does have some issues, but they aren’t page closers.

***

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