First Lines: It is a time of famine, a time of hungering want that threatens to eat you from the inside out, leaving you good only to wait for the coming of death. And Death the Endless always comes.
I swear, every time I see this title, I think it’s about The Hunchback of Notre Dame because this is the name of a song in the movie and a well-known place in the book. But it’s actually about another Victor Hugo book, Les Misérables. Well, that and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. We’ll get to that.
1828, Paris. The French Revolution has failed and the poorer streets are ruled by a group of nine criminal guilds known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine “Nina” Thenadier is a talented cat burglar who does anything and everything she can to avoid her father’s fists and protect her adoptive little sister, Cosette “Ettie”. When Ettie attracts the attention of the ruthless Guild of Flesh leader named Tiger, Nina will stop at nothing to protect her sister. But to do that, she’ll need to travel from the darkest streets to the palace of Louis XVII–and force her to make an impossible choice between saving her sister and starting a war.
It was different than I expected. While it is definitely a retelling of Les Mis, it’s done with a twist. A Jungle Book twist. It’s the urban jungle, my friends. Like, there’s a ton of animal imagery in the story. Characters are named Orso (bear) and Tiger, while the different Guilds of the Miracle Court have names like Dogs, Cats, Bats, Rats, etc. It took me a while to really get into this part of the story, or maybe it just took a while for that to start making sense, but once it works, it’s pretty interesting.
Creative, yes. But it did take some time getting used to. I was expecting a more faithful retelling than it turned out to be. Because of the Jungle Book stuff, the story does take a turn. There are something like 9 Guilds and those are entirely new to this story. On top of that, I’m pretty sure that Cosette is significantly younger than Eponine in this story rather than the same age. And one major character to the original story so far has not made an appearance. I assume he will in the next book.
I know everyone’s obsessed with Eponine and like, fine, whatever. For this story, she made a solid heroine. She’s known as Nina or the Black Cat, a thief of tremendous ability. Paris is not kind to her, forcing her into several painful situations to survive. And for some time, she’s content to live a hard life. But that changes when threats to Ettie (Cosette) start coming because of how pretty the little girl is. As I said, Paris is not kind and the people who want Ettie want to break her.
Surprisingly, one of the major players in this story is Enjolras St. Juste. It was an interesting turn of events, considering the role he plays. And can I just say for a moment how much I enjoy Grantaire? This drunk best friend has had a soft spot in my heart for a long time. And, weirdly, Montparnasse is cool?
I am getting seriously off track. There’s a lot to unpack in this story. It very clearly highlights class differences (and warfare), particularly between the royal family and the lowest of the low in the streets of Paris. Nina is able to walk both sides of that and you see clearly that there are villains on both sides, and people worth your respect. But let’s be real, I don’t think we really needed Les Mis to do this story. It could have been just as interesting, if not more so, with original characters.
This book does have dark moments. Violence, class issues, broken hearts, harsh realities of life, and of course, Death the Endless. But it tempers that with brief glimpses of humor and heartwarming moments of sisterhood. Ettie and Nina are sweet and I loved seeing such a tight sisterly bond in a story that, historically, has pitted these two against each other.