“Enchantée” is an historical fantasy set in Paris in 1789, on the eve of the revolution. Camille, a young woman forced to use magic to support her family, is ostensibly the hero of our tale. But the real star of the story is Paris, brought vividly to life by the author at one of its most colorful periods: its sunny noble houses and parks, its dark, labyrinthine alleys and small shops, all split by the meandering Seine, and towered over by its iconic cathedral (RIP Notre Dame). In particular writer Gita Trelease, who lives in Blue Hill part of the year, contrasts the sights, smells and sounds of poverty – the resentment, hunger and desperation of the poor of Paris – with the smug, silk-clad, perfectly perfumed, powdered and coifed nobility who infest Versailles, idling away their days with gambling, flirting and games. Her detailed depictions of Paris and the palace are sheer, unmitigated delight.

Cover courtesy of Gita Trelease

Camille is the young daughter of a printer, driven into bankruptcy by the aristocracy because of his rabble-rousing broadsheets, and his upper-class wife, who taught Camille the art of magie ordinaire. As the story opens, they have just died of smallpox and Camille is trying to provide for herself and her rather reckless younger sister by using this simple magic, turning metal scraps into coins. Their violent and drunken brother Alain, deep in gambling debt, steals their meager savings. In desperation, Camille ventures into a darker magic, which her mother forbade: she dons an enchanted dress that converts her from a pretty but ragged orphan into a dazzlingly glamorous courtier. Thus transformed, she can gain access to Versailles and use her magic to beat the high stakes gamblers at the court of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

There is a price for using magic, of course. Its effects never last long – the coins and clothing and even her looks soon revert back, adding a Cinderella-like drama to the nights she spends at court as her alter ego, Baroness de la Fontaine. Worse, though, for the magic to work, it needs to feed off sorrow. This takes a physical and emotional toll on her. Magic is both heady and destructive, like a drug. And like a drug, it is addictive. As is the silken and seductive world of Versailles, which clashes with her revolutionary ideology.

Camille longs to quit both, but after each triumph at cards, each evening rubbing shoulders with the nobility, she convinces herself she must keep at it just a little longer, to ensure she will never be poor again. She thus becomes a target for another magician, the corrupt and powerful Vicomte de Séguin, who is destroying one of her aristo friends and, worse, seducing her little sister. Camille must sacrifice herself to Séguin at a climactic moment to save them all.

“Enchantée”’s one weak point is plot. Several key plot points are never resolved. Camille’s romance with a winning young French-Indian inventor stutters along, and efforts to link his passion for hot air balloons to the revolutionary ideals feel forced. But Trelease is able to compensate for the lack of plot developments by harnessing the inherent suspense of the simmering French Revolution. It propels the story forward as the Revolution heads inexorably to its violent eruption. We learn of the Tennis Court Oaths, the bread riots, the burning of houses, the beheading of an aristocrat. Then comes an invitation for Camille to attend a big Versailles fete on the auspicious date of … July 14. As the mob demolishes the Bastille’s infamous jail and loots its arsenal, Camille and her fancy friends are playing croquet and sipping champagne. Aux armes, citoyens!

It’s good stuff, and plunging oneself into the lavishly described world Trelease creates (and re-creates) is as enjoyable as devouring the richest French dessert – with all of the pleasure and none of the guilt.

Amy MacDonald is a freelance writer and children’s book author. She lives in Falmouth and can be reached at [email protected].


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