Hello and welcome to the March spotlight of Read the Rainbow!
In February we saw so many amazing queer book releases, it was impossible to choose just one as our BOTM. Hence we ended up picking two books: Belle Révolte and The Sound of Stars. That means a double treat for all of you eager readers 🙂
Read the Rainbow is a spotlight for queer books, authors and readers. Every month, I’ll be hosting an interview or discussion centred around a queer book. The interviews will be conducted with authors and the discussions will take place with #ownvoice readers for each book. Every month, I’ll be announcing the book of the month for Read the Rainbow so that everyone can read the book before the spotlight, although it is not a necessity.
Today, some of my lovely friends will be engaging in a discussion on Belle Révolte by Linsey Miller which features a protagonist on the ace spectrum and identifying as biromantic. There are several trans and non-binary characters, some of whom have they/them pronouns.
Emilie des Marais is more at home holding scalpels than embroidery needles and is desperate to escape her noble roots to serve her country as a physician. But society dictates a noble lady cannot perform such gruesome work.
Annette Boucher, overlooked and overworked by her family, wants more from life than her humble beginnings and is desperate to be trained in magic. So when a strange noble girl offers Annette the chance of a lifetime, she accepts.
Emilie and Annette swap lives—Annette attends finishing school as a noble lady to be trained in the ways of divination, while Emilie enrolls to be a physician’s assistant, using her natural magical talent to save lives.
But when their nation instigates a frivolous war, Emilie and Annette must work together to help the rebellion end a war that is based on lies.
Today on the blog we have Charlotte and Rena to hold a discussion around Belle Révolte. Charlotte (she/her) is a bookstagrammer and identifies as an asexual demiromantic lesbian. She is an English teacher and a Ravenclaw and loves reading YA books. Rena (she/her) blogs at Bookflirting 101 and identifies as asexual. She is a Student of German studies and Egyptology, a book fanatic, and experienced daydreamer.
This discussion is spoiler-free and you can read it even if you haven’t read Belle Révolte.
1. Just from reading the blurb and looking at the cover what were your thoughts or expectations from this book? Did your expectations hold?
Charlotte: I expected a princess and the pauper type story with a lot of lush, beautiful language and fantasy, as the cover was so beautiful. These expectations definitely held. The book was a fascinating spin-off the princess and the pauper and the writing was breathtakingly beautiful.
Rena: I expected a beautiful, french inspired fantasy story, though admittedly, I didn´t have a lot of expectations at all. The cover made me curious instead, from the title with itS own, almost musical rhythm to the design which seemed so curious and fascinating. It looked pretty and so I was thinking about luxury and beautiful gowns, but the more you look, the more you notice. It took me this reread to notice that the drops from the pink colour on the top actually are very close to blood drops for example. And the expectations were topped. It is a lush story, full of beauty and the kind of luxury the cover promises, but in a very different way.
2. Let’s talk about the characters, who did you relate more, Emilie or Annette. Or did the side characters end up interesting you more than these two?
Charlotte: Definitely Annette. I adored Emilie and her ambition and did relate to her need to prove herself, but Annette was more relatable because she didn’t come from such a heightened state of privilege. Annette was born into a world where she would have to fight for everything every single day and her absolute awe at all of the riches she was suddenly thrust into, struck home with being a poorer kid visiting the houses of richer friends. Her thoughts around asexuality were also incredibly similar to my own experiences, and her being a sapphic ace meant that I was always destined to love her. I also found her magic to be so cool, even though it was less physical than Emilie’s.
Rena: I have to pick Annette too, mostly because I could find a lot of myself in her nervousness, and the feeling of not being good enough no matter how much you try. I also have these constant thoughts of doing something wrong or making mistakes, so that was really relatable. Seeing her grow beyond that without changing who she is was so good to see. She is as much a fighter as Emilie is, in a much more hidden way, just like her magic, and I love how sure she is about the choices she makes in the story. Because she knows the struggle of her country and her people, and her thoughts about that are so strong and sure to read.
Also, her problems with people dealing with her asexuality were also relatable, because this is something I´m struggling in my own relationship as well, and seeing her never wanting sex being just accepted was such a balm to read. And I always had a weakness for everything to do with the moon and illusions, so her magic also interests me more. Thought Emilie is an amazing character too. They make a good team, even apart, and that’s their biggest strength.
3. We don’t get a lot of fantasy standalone books so it’s always interesting to observe the ways in which standalones may be different from a series. Do you prefer Belle Revolte as a standalone or do you think it would have done better as a series?
Charlotte: While I would have loved a series just to experience more of the beautiful world, I think that this was best served as a standalone. Sometimes series overcomplicate the worldbuilding and character relationships, and in an already complicated story, a full arc in one story is really refreshing. While I’m incredibly curious about what happens to all the characters in the aftermath, the ending was pretty definite and I think it left off well.
Rena: It works perfectly as a standalone since the story is pretty much self-contained. We get all the information we need, and the end with the coronation and the hope for the future is a good place to leave it. Though I like it so much, I wouldn’t mind a sequel, or maybe a companion novel, set in the same world. But overall, it was a bit of a relief to read a fantasy novel knowing that I wouldn’t have to wait a year for the continuation or dread a cliffhanger. I love series, but sometimes itS nice if the story is self-contained.
4. Belle Révolte takes place in a world of noonday and midnight arts, an intricate and beautiful magic system. What did you think of the overall worldbuilding in this book?
Charlotte: I absolutely loved the worldbuilding. The magic system was so unique and I thought that it was incredibly clever to make the different types of magic implicitly gendered. While the characters from the beginning seem to take the noonday is for men and midnight is for women divide at face value, the complication of that division throughout the book is a brilliant critique of these hard gender roles. It starts at the very beginning, with Emilie rejecting her mother’s forced feminization of her through the midnight arts, and is continually challenged throughout the book by the older artists’ theories, several characters who use they/them pronouns, and a surprise binary trans character. Presenting this world where there is a clear, enforced gender divide through the very nature of its magic and then undermining it at every turn was so clever.
I also loved that we were never overwhelmed with the world-building. We were never told anything that we didn’t need to know, whether that be how the different magic styles worked or where they came from. Every piece of information was necessary and it helped the worldbuilding flow seamlessly. Fantasy sometimes gets a bad rep for having too much info-dumping… But here, I could be pretty sure that everything I learned had value to my understanding as a reader.
Rena: The world-building was very well done. We get enough information without being overwhelmed, in a way that feels pretty organic and I love how…itS a bit hard to explain, but the society shapes the magic, or at least the way everybody thinks about magic. Charlotte already talked about the enforced gender roles, and the magic is so strongly linked with the magic that one character can say that he was always more dawn than dusk (I hope I get it right now, I can’t find the exact quote) to explain that he is trans. And the system and it´s implications get questioned all the time there, to the point where it becomes pretty obvious that it isn’t as simple and yet so much simpler at the same time, because magic is magic. I have a weakness for theories about magic, and the history of fantasy worlds and this book delivered, especially on the first part.
5. What were your favourite parts or incidents in the book?
Charlotte: There’s a particular scene late in the book between Annette and her love interest where asexuality is discussed, though not named. It was absolutely beautifully done and the way that Miller wrote about asexuality in a world where they didn’t have a name for different sexual orientations was masterful. Similarly, Emilie has thoughts throughout the book about aromanticism that are so normalized. Her reaction to finding out that a character very close to her is trans was also beautifully done. Throughout the whole book, all the characters’ identities are treated with so much care and spoken about in such gorgeous language. Every time Annette even hinted at her asexuality, I felt like I had to take pictures of the quotes and share them with everyone!
Rena: There is the quote I mentioned before, where Annette has a conversation with Coline about her asexuality:
“Sometimes I felt like I was giving Demeine what it wanted, Men were lustful and women were controlled, the frozen calm of Mistress Moon that tempered Lord Sun’s heat. But this wasn’t control. I still wanted. Just not as some folks thought of want.”
It stuck with me for a very long time, because this is something I´ve dealt with myself a lot since that thought of women having to be pure and not interested in sex is something sadly still very prevalent in our society, and the feeling that I fit this wasn’t always an easy one. But Annette is right there too, it isn’t control and purity and all that bs. So seeing it all written out like that made me feel seen in a way. Of course, I also love the final battle, for the pure drama there, and Charles is one of my favourites because he is such a sarcastic sweetheart.
And Colines whole arc, especially the moment where the pieces come together is amazing. I was left with the feeling that I should have known that, should have seen it coming and this is the best way foreshadowing can play out, this feeling of Oh, so that was…of course! And I agree with Charlotte, the language was so beautiful and the way every sexuality and identity was just accepted without much comment is great. Oh, and I just remembered, pretty much every interaction Estrel and Laurent have is pure gold.
6. Did anything in terms of the LGBTQ representation strike you as refreshing or something you would like to see more in books?
Charlotte: As I’m sure is obvious in my last answer, this is a resounding yes. The characters were never othered throughout the book and having both of the main characters likely be a-spec was something I basically never see. This was a fantasy world with no apparent terms for different sexualities and genders, and yet the characters thought about themselves, discussed these thoughts, and supported each other. I think it’s a pretty clear example of how representation can be done in worlds that don’t include the same history as ours.
Rena: As said before everything is just so accepted. Not by everyone, but the character who would have problems are in the past, memories, barely even worth mentioning. And even though there are no fixed terms for things like asexuality or transness, there are ways to talk about that, which link back to the world-building and the magic system (the more dawn than dusk part from before). And people understand and know what is meant by that. It’s just such an ordinary part of the setting in that way. And it gets discussed a lot, as part of the story, the magic and the characters. Everything goes together in this book.
7. There is a lot of political commentary in the book, did you think it was structured and discussed through the characters well enough?
Charlotte: There was definitely a lot of commentary about power and wealth: who has it, who doesn’t, and how do we make these systems fairer. I loved Annette’s role in this commentary as a poor person with very little agency who sticks to her convictions throughout the novel even as she received pushback from people with more power than her. Similarly, Emilie making changes in her own ideas based on what she sees from the other side of the power line was a good example of what it takes for someone who has everything to change, even though she started off the story with some hesitations about the fairness of her family’s wealth. There are some things I wish could have been explored a little more, given more time (namely the aftermath and the changes that came with it) but thought that overall the commentary was very well explored given the limited point of view lenses that we were experiencing.
Rena: Yes, I think so, because the book deals a lot with the system behind everything and how the problem is to rephrase my favourite character from one of my favourite authors Terry Pratchett:
“Evil starts when you treat people as things.”
That’s something that comes up all the time, who is expendable, what are you willing to do to distract from your problems, and this is something which we see happening in our world all the time. Annette is the main focus here because she comes from a less privileged background and thus highlights all the problems which her classmates don’t even see (bookkeeping is a good example.)
But I find Emilie’s arc more interesting because she has the awareness that things are wrong from the beginning and wants to change them, but it´s all very self-centred and vague, more like general ideas than anything concrete. Her offer to Annette that she would protect her as much as she could, and it will be dangerous but some things are worth it, is a pretty good indication of that amount of privilege. She grows out of that over the course of the book, and her realization is beautiful to see. But yes, I would have liked to see more of the fallout, because I can’t just imagine that everybody would just accept the new changes. But it ends on hope and with a lookout on what will and could happen, so that’s a good way to end it without getting dragged down by real politics.
8. Lastly, if you were to write a short letter to either this book or the author, what would you write?
Charlotte: Thank you for the love in which you talked about a-spec identities and for incorporating so much diversity throughout Belle Révolte. The book was beautiful and gender diversity seemed to be an integral part of the plot rather than simply an afterthought, as did the romantic relationships, which developed naturally and without detracting from the plot itself. While the ending wrapped the main plot up nicely, I do wonder what made you decide to end things for Annette and Emilie the way you did. Is it that perhaps some things are too much for this world?
Rena: Thank you so much for this book and the chance to read it. You included a signature in the ARC, saying “You are enough” and that gets proven well in the book. We are enough, every one of us, and that point comes across so organic in such a fun way, it’s amazing to read. But yes I had a slight hesitation over the ending too. There is a price to be paid for everything and I understand that, but…I´ve seen that same thing happening a bit too often in fantasy novel to be truly content with it. But that’s such a little point, otherwise, this book is almost perfect. Thank you, for making me feel seen and reflecting thoughts I sometimes still don’t quite know how to finish and think through them.
Oh, and how dare you with the deaths.
And with that we come to an end of a deep and interesting discussion. Huge thanks to both Charlotte and Rena for such a fruitful talk 🙂
I really hope you all liked it, and before you go let me inform you that we’ll be discussing The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow on the blog on the 25th of March so keep an eye out for that!
Have you read Belle Revolte? If not, is it on your TBR?
Do you prefer to read fantasy books as standalone novels or a series?
Tell me about some of the best books with a-spec and/or biromantic representation that you’ve read.