I’m trying to imagine being the agent getting this pitch: “A teenage girl who lives in futuristic Versailles wants to escape this corporation-run Baroque world, but has to sell drugs to do it.” Is there any way you don’t pounce on that? I mean, they’re correctly billing it as “Breaking Bad via Marie-Antoinette.” Designer drugs! Designer gowns! Wealth and intrigue and murder! And teenagers! Why isn’t this a CW show yet?
I don’t know, but my vote is for Harry Shum, Jr. as the sexy drug dealer Saber and Alona Tal as Danica. CW, hit me up.
Anyway, France of the future is beholden to Sonoma Corp, a company that functions more like its own little surveillance state than a conglomerate. Among other things, they got their hands on the entire palace of Versailles in a less-than-friendly takeover. France is pissed, but Sonoma executives are having too much fun acting like they live in the 18th century to care. (It’s not entirely clear why everyone would consent to this as a semi-permanent state of affairs, but…well, whatever, just go with it.) With some minor modifications like robot servants and M.A.R.I.E, the AI that oversees maintenance and security, life is grand.
Danica Greyson is the hero the city deserves, a corseted coder who, because she witnessed the king committing a truly sordid murder, is now the queen-apparent. It’s blackmail, but she’s as much a victim of it as the king. Her power-hungry mother set it all in motion, and Danica is now trapped in the palatial prison between a schemer and a sadist.
The prose is adequate to the task, but I actually could have done with a bit more detail and drama. Certainly Aprilynne Pike did her research, and I wish she could have let a bit more of it show in the colors, the textures, and the tastes of Versailles. We need to know what there is to recommend this world that tempted an entire multinational conglomerate to take refuge in it. This book could have been positively sumptuous. But we don’t get to indulge in the decadence around Danica because the clock is almost audibly ticking. She’s about to be forced into marriage. She needs millions of euros but Sonoma has its own currency (a devious little detail that I really liked–if Amazon could have its own currency, and thereby force you to buy only its products, it totally would) that she can’t use. She’s too famous to disappear.
Her way out is to make a deal with the crime-lord Reginald and his handsome go-between, Saber. Saber is from the exotic world of…reality, and he’s none too pleased to be working with her, nor she him. Mostly. Except that he is very handsome. The romance is, fortunately, not of a piece with the period. There aren’t any overwrought declarations of love or agonies of private longing. Mostly Danica feels a combination of fascination and lust that distracts her but doesn’t send her into too big a tizzy. She has bigger issues, and she knows it.
Unfortunately, these issues begin to feel a little forced. It’s never entirely clear why she can’t just go to the police, why she can’t just publicly break off her engagement, why she can’t find another avenue of escape. Pike wants so badly for the plot to work that she shoehorns it a bit, making Danica’s tragic choices a little less understandable. The worst is when she decides to dose the unwitting and presumably unwilling–even her friends. I would have preferred a heroine with either principles or a decided lack thereof, not this damsel who thinks her hands are tied. Thinking doesn’t make it so.
The premise of drug-dealing and blackmail actually takes more suspension of disbelief than the idea of a corporation-run New Versailles complete with robots. Pike doesn’t have the ruthlessness for this book even though she has more than enough imagination. She wants her main character to remain good while doing bad things, even though there’s a simpler solution: Danica could have been just as self-serving and wicked as the world she moves in. We might still have liked her. Instead we have to try to reconcile her conscience for her while she makes extremely dubious choices without sufficient reflection.
Her conscience does pain her though, and quite literally at that. She describes herself as previously gawky and plain, requiring immense amounts of money and time to be made presentably in the aesthetically obsessed Versailles. Rhinoplasty, orthodontics, and poise lessons have taught her that her body is a weapon and that her pain hones it. Thus we also get an understated but very affecting obsession with her corsets, which she tightens whenever she feels anxious and leaves on even when she sleeps. It’s a unique form of self-harm, and a thoughtful way to make use of the setting for psychological insight.
So yes, we do get some character development as the plot rushes toward what can only be a dramatic conflagration (I mean, this is about dealing drugs to executives. It’s not a spoiler to say it probably won’t end well). It’s not as tight (pun sort of intended) as it could be, but I’m hoping that the next book will provide either more solid motivations and actions, or at least more elaborate window-dressing. This world doesn’t have to make perfect sense to be a lot of fun.
This actually came out a while ago, but I’m only getting to it now because I saw it had a cliffhanger ending, and I have a hard time getting over those. Better to wait a bit so that, when you’re done, you don’t have so long to wait for the sequel. Well, Pike hasn’t announced the sequel yet (I’ve checked…and checked…) and I gave up waiting. Presumably it’ll be out at some point in 2017. In the meantime, don’t deny yourself this romp through Paris’s past and future with Danica, Walter White’s sparky younger sister.