THE EMBROIDERED BOOK by Kate Heartfield.
HarperVoyager. h/b. £14.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
The Holy Roman Emperor died, leaving behind several unmarried Habsburg daughters. It is 1767, and in the Schönbrunn Palace, his widow cleverly arranges two very high profile and advantageous marriages for two archduchesses of Austria. Marriages that will secure both Naples and France as allies.
The archduchesses, however, have their own plans and secrets. The mysterious death of their governess has left Charlotte and Antoine as guardians of an embroidered book, and they are yet to even touch the surface of the possibilities hidden within its seemingly blank pages. The girls may be soon separated for empire and duty, but magic will unite them. The cost will be no more than the loss of their most precious memories.
Antoine, of course, as we soon discover, is Marie Antoinette, the soon to be Louis XVI’s queen, and Heartfield brings her to life in all of her powdered glory as the book unfolds into a wonderful tale of spells, sacrifices and political machinations. Historical facts are used to ground the story in context and are embellished and woven with a well-conceived magic system resulting in a very readable historical fantasy.
Whilst Antoine makes discoveries and faces political prejudice in France, Charlotte, of course, becomes Carolina of Naples, queen to an increasingly abusive and arrogant king, and treads her own difficult path to take control of her king and his people. She fares rather more successfully than her sister and is soon ordained into The Order of 1326, giving her access to magic and Magisters aplenty.
The Embroidered Book is a long and beautifully languid exploration of power and the advantages and consequences of being powerful or powerless, particularly for these females of history. Its characters are rich with believable flaws, selfish desires and vulnerabilities that bring the entire cast to life throughout. The best form of escapism.