1768. Charlotte arrives in Naples to marry a man she has never met. Two years later, her sister Antoine is sent to France to marry another stranger. In the mirrored corridors of Versailles, they rename her Marie Antoinette.
But the sisters are not powerless. When they were only children, Charlotte and Antoine discovered a book of spells – spells that seem to work, with dark and unpredictable consequences.
In a world of vicious court politics, of discovery and dizzying change, Charlotte and Antoine use their secret skills to redefine their lives, becoming the most influential women of the age.
But every spell requires a sacrifice. As love between the sisters turns to rivalry, they will send Europe spiralling into revolution.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review & can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
“Women find their power where they can, and remember it in twisted threads. Misheard whispers. Embroidered and disguised.”
1767 and two young Hapsburg Princesses discover a book left by their governess filled with spells and magic. A year later the eldest, Charlotte, finds herself on the road to Naples to meet her husband to be, with her she carries the book, hoping the spells inside will protect her and ensure she becomes the Queen she was destined to be. Two years later, Antoine, now Marie Antoinette travels to France with her own copy of the book. Both sisters have big plans and ideas for their rules, but, before long, they find themselves on opposite ends of a magical war. A war that will have consequences world wide, bringing about a revolution that will bring both sisters to their knees.
You may think that, knowing how this story will inevitably end, it would get a little boring in parts… I can say with 100% certainty that is not the case. Apparently historical fiction with the addition of magic is my new jam and, between this and the Shadow Histories series, I’ve found a new favourite sub-genre. The Embroidered Book may span continents and multiple years but it is told solely from the POV’s of Charlotte and Antoine Hapsburg who become Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples and Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. Their bond as sisters was strong and, as with all young people, seemingly unbreakable, but unfortunately life and the running of Kingdoms worked to tear them apart. Charlotte is the older sister, the seemingly wise, the more shrewd, cunning and less trusting. She has never needed to be loved, she simply wants her Kingdom to survive, to make her mother proud and keep up the Hapsburg legacy. Antoinette on the other hand thrived in the spotlight, was desperate to be loved by her family and her people. She is the luxurious Queen of France, wearing her fancy clothes and expensive jewels, something that was expected of her. But also something that ensured she fit in with the French royalty and was hated by the French public.
We get a wide depth of side characters, some who get slightly more page time than others, but all make a significant impact on the book. The scope of the side characters was truly immense and to help us, we get a handy character guide at the front of the book that I found myself referring too on more than one occasion and it massively helped me keep them all straight in my head. The author brings in historical figures who I recognised and others that were new to me, and I loved trying to work out who was friend and who was foe, who knew about magic and who didn’t. Heartfield has an ability to write characters that end up almost feeling like family to you, mainly thanks to the over 600 pages you spend alongside them, but also because of the amount of time she spends letting us see the inner workings of her characters minds, their hopes, wishes and goals for life.
As this is a Historical fantasy that, as far as I could tell, sticks fairly well to true historical events you would assume that there would be no real plot twists, and because I knew the outcome of at least one sister, I did think it would lack any true emotional punch… boy was I wrong. I think it helped that, although I knew the outcome for Marie Antoinette, I knew very little of her journey, and little to nothing about Charlotte. And, with the addition of magic, Heartfield managed to make a story that, though historically accurate, still manages to grip the reader to the pages. The magic system itself added an emotional component to the book that I just wasn’t prepared for. As we all know, magic comes at a cost, and in this book magic normally costs you something physical be it hair, blood etc, as well as your memories, you love for things and people and objects you hold dear. It was heartbreaking at times, seeing what the characters were willing to give up to ensure the safety of themselves, their family and their people.
One of the big themes in this book is power and this is largely shown through the differing ways both Charlotte and Antoinette use magic to gain it. Ever practical Charlotte has always used her magic, her power to secure her own. She doesn’t want to be ruled by her husband and used everything within her power to make sure that when people mentioned the power of Naples, they were talking about her. Through force of will she enters the Order, an ancient group of magic users, cementing herself as both Queen and magister, something that was previously unheard of. Antoinette, however, finds herself at odds with the Order. She believes magic should be freely available, especially when it has the ability to save lives. So she recruits and she teaches and she creates her own little order of magister’s who live and work outside the rulings of the Order. Heartfield ensures we know that there was no right or wrong way to deal with magic, both sisters have their own ideas, and both end up backfiring on them in different, but heartbreaking ways.
I loved this book, and I especially enjoyed that it focused on the women who are so often overlooked in this period of history. Heartfield gives Marie Antoinette the story she deserves and shows her, not as the spoilt and brattish Queen, but as someone so desperate to be loved, doing everything she could to fit in only to have it all come crashing down on her, and with me knowing absolutely nothing about Charlotte before going into this book, I absolutely devoured their stories. Now I will say, if you aren’t a big fan of historical books that spend a lot of time talking about politics, it might be worth giving this one a miss. But if, like me, you love a story with scope, both in characters and time, a story you can really dig your teeth into and almost feel like you become part of it yourself, well then look no further. Historical fantasy is apparently my jam, and I can’t wait to see what the author has in store for us next.