Two young women must trade lives, work together to stay alive, and end a war caused by magic and greed…
Linsey Miller’s standalone fantasy Belle Révolte publishes February 4th with Sourcebooks—read an excerpt below!
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 terrible war, Emilie and Annette come together to help the rebellion unearth the truth before it’s too late.
My mother did not shackle me despite my last escape attempt. It didn’t matter—the corset, layers of satin and silk, and summer heat were chains enough. I was certain I would be the first young noble lady of Demeine to arrive at finishing school under the watchful eyes of two armed guards. My mother made it seem so innocuous, talking of nothing but her perfect days looking down upon the quaint town of Bosquet while learning the correct topics of conversation, the exact ways to divine tomorrow’s weather, and wonderful illusions to cover up everything from blood stains to whole castles. The illusionary arts, the first and simplest branch of the midnight arts, were my mother’s specialty, something the perfect daughter should have appreciated. I had neither aptitude nor interest in illusions.
Illusions were, as far as I could tell, nothing but lies. My mother was a wonderful liar.
“I love you,” she said, her expression that emotionless calm all ladies of Demeine were expected to possess, “but I am growing weary of your rebellion.”
I peeked out the window. We had been traveling for days, bundled up in the carriage and only stopping to swap horses. It was the carriage Mother usually took to court: wonderfully impressive on the outside, with gold and silver gilding running through the ocean colors of our family’s crest on the door, and frustratingly practical on the inside. I had been staring at the same black velvet and single lamp since we left. No amount of fiddling with the lock while she slept had freed me yet.
“Let us rejoice, then, that your education means no one will notice I exhaust you.” I tapped the thin skin beneath my eyes where she had hidden my dark circles as she hid hers every day. “You said you would let me study the noonday arts. Mademoiselle Gardinier’s school does not teach the noonday arts.”
The ability to channel magic was rare, and it was rarer still for it to run so steadily in a family. Traditionally, noble sons with the ability studied the noonday arts and either specialized in the fighting or healing arts. They became chevaliers or physicians. They changed the world by sword or by scalpel.
Noble girls didn’t change the world.
“I said I would let you study them, not that I would allow you to partake in such powerful magic, especially after that abomination you used on poor Edouard. You could have killed him.” She folded her hands in her lap, the tight sleeves of her silver overdress rustling together like moth wings. “You are a daughter of Demeine. You will learn the midnight arts, you will—somehow—impress someone well enough for them to marry you, you will have children, you will serve our people as the midnight artist and comtesse they need, and one day, you will understand why I made you do all of this.”
Edouard, one of our guards, had caught me during my last escape attempt and laughed when I had explained my plan to join the university as a boy. Even common boys were allowed to be physicians if they were good enough and could pay the tuition.
“Being a boy’s not that easy,” he had said, angry for the first time since I could remember. “I would know. And you’d be doing it for selfish reasons. You don’t understand. Listen to me, Emilie…”
When it was clear he wasn’t going to let me go, I had knocked him out by altering his body alchemistry with my abominable noonday arts.
I tugged at the high collar of my dress, sweat pooling in every wrinkle, and scowled. “I could better serve our people as a physician.”
“The noonday arts would wear your body out in pursuit of such a dream, to the point of death or infertility.” She slapped my hand away from my collar. “Be reasonable, and perhaps you will learn you enjoy the midnight arts and the life you are supposed to lead.”
My mother was always reasonable, as a good lady of Demeine should be, and unlike me, she never wore her emotions on her face.
“This will be good for you,” she said. “Marais was too rural for you to make friends of the appropriate station. You will need allies at court.”
“Yes, I cannot wait to meet them.”
“I see sincerity was another of my lessons you neglected.” She leaned across the carriage, fingers skimming my cheek, and recoiled when I flinched. “You are not a child any longer. You are sixteen, and soon you will be old enough to inherit your father’s responsibilities along with the title you disregard. I remember when that was not even a possibility. You have so many more opportunities than girls in the past, than other girls now, and it is insult to refuse them.”
I was an insult to our name, and my very dreams, to be a physician and study the noonday arts, to channel the magic of Lord Sun through my veins and save the dying, were the worst insult of all. I wanted the wrong things. I wanted too much.
“Noonday artists change the world, whether through the fighting or healing arts. That is a responsibility that comes with power you cannot comprehend. You are young. You will learn.”
Demeine was blessed with two types of power: the noonday and the midnight arts. Each drew power from Lord Sun or his Mistress Moon, but Lord Sun was far stronger and even more fickle. The fighting and healing arts were used to change the physical world, and as such, required immense amounts of power. Such magic wore the mortal body down bit by bit until the ability to channel faded or the artist died.
Noble girls could not be allowed to handle such corruptive power.
There was nothing to learn. I comprehended the fact that I was a body, not a person, quite well.
“‘I will learn,’” I said, the small nothing town of Bosquet rushing past our carriage window. “Is that a command or an attempt at reassurance?”
“Please, Emilie, we both know you are incapable of following even the simplest of orders.” She twisted her first two fingers, broke the illusion hiding her fan in her lap, and flicked it open. “I prayed to Mistress Moon to console my grief at having to be apart from you, and she sent me a vision of you happy and content at court. You will be fine.”
Mistress Moon’s magic and the lesser power required for the midnight arts—illusions, scrying, and divination—wore the body down much more slowly but required excessive self-control. It was a safer, slower burn, but midnight artists couldn’t change the world. They only observed it, or, if they were good, changed how others observed it.
Perhaps Demeine was as it was, ruled by a court on the cusp of rightly losing control, because we let no one new change it.
I had to change the world. I had to prove to my mother that the whole of my being wasn’t wrong, that I wasn’t a disappointment.
“Maybe you saw a future where I became a physician,” I said.
The gods could take the time to answer her prayers but not mine. How paradigmatic. Divination was guesswork, hardly quantifiable. A diviner could see a dozen different futures, and none might come to pass. If a midnight artist even could divine. Many never mastered the skill.
“Though, admittedly, you appeared to have taken none of my clothing advice in my divination; you were not wearing a physician’s coat,” she said. “You stand at the edge of a great future.”
“Whose?” I lifted a silver chain, worth more than all of Bosquet, from my chest. The layers, the jewelry—I couldn’t breathe much less move for fear of drowning in silver and sweat. No wonder we were expected to be silent and still. Even this left me light-headed.
“All power has a cost,” she said as the carriage slowed to a stop, “and you were born with power—your title, your wealth, your magic. This is your cost, Emilie des Marais, and it is your duty to pay it. Power demands sacrifice.”
“This isn’t fair.”
She laughed, the apathetic mask she kept up at all times slipping. “Really? There will be girls at school who lack your name, your money, and your magic, and they will not treat you as kindly as I have. You are arrogant and stubborn. Mind your tongue, or you will have no friends, no happiness, and no future.”
She had never called me a disappointment, but I could taste it in the silence between us. I was not the daughter she had always longed for. At least magic would never abandon me.
“You are my daughter, and I love you. I am pushing you to do this because I know Demeine will laugh you out of university. I do this because I love you.” She ran her fingers through the strands of her silver necklaces, where she stored small lockets of power. Her illusion settled over me like snow, soft and cold and suffocating, and I knew no one would be able to tell how hot and miserable I looked. “Time to go.”
We had stopped at a stable on the south side of town. The noises of Bosquet were louder now, and the shadows shorter, squat stains beneath our feet. The town had an open-air market and church at the center, and we had passed between storefronts and housing and orderly gravel paths shaded by linden trees with interlaced canopies. Our driver had already vanished inside the stable, and the guards lingered on the other side of the carriage. A crowd had gathered in the shade of the trees across from us. Behind them, a white poster with green ink had been stuck to the trunk of a tree.
At the edge of that crowd was a girl, who despite her flax dress dusted with dirt, despite her white skin spotted with sunburn and old bruises, and despite her brown hair in desperate need of styling, looked like me. I might have mistaken her for some unknown half-sister if either of my parents had ever been inclined to such affairs.
Perhaps Lord Sun had finally answered my prayers.
“Wait,” I said quickly, grabbing my mother’s wrist before she could leave the carriage. “Give me a moment to prepare myself, please.”
I did not let go of her immediately as I usually did, and her gaze dropped to my fingers. She took my hand in hers and nodded.
“What do you think that crowd is?” I asked.
Her eyes didn’t leave our hands. “Mademoiselle Charron is in town to inspect the artists in your class. I am sure she’s providing free scrying and divinations to those who need them. All of her writings are in green for some ill-graced reason, but so goes the odd trends of youth, I suppose.”
“That’s nice of her.” I moved my other hand, palm up and burning in a sliver of sunlight, out of her sight. “Can we wait until there are fewer people? You knotted me up in new clothes and shoes, and I have no desire for an audience.”
She laughed, a sound I hadn’t heard in ages, and nodded. “Very well.”
“Thank you.” I channeled the power I had gathered in my free hand to the one holding hers.
It slipped under her skin with the soft sizzle of heat against flesh. Her head jerked up, but I held tight, the magic slithering through the nerves of her arms to the dark little spaces of her mind, until the inner workings of her body shone with my power like a layer of gold silk. We were all nothing but lightning in a bloody bottle. I deleted the alchemical components in her mind that controlled wakefulness. These last moments would be like a dream.
My mother slumped in her seat, asleep, and I stepped out of the carriage. My own body would pay the price for this; I would not be able to sleep for a day or two at least. I had five minutes at most, and no idea if this would work. It was arrogant to think I would get away with it.
But arrogance and magic were all I had.
Even a chance was worth it.
I was far too overdressed for the crowd, but the people were more focused on the poster than me. My mother was right—it was advertising Estrel Charron’s services—and the girl who looked like me was mouthing the words to herself as she read. I slipped into place next to her and tilted my head till my mouth was even with her ear. I was slightly taller and certainly heavier, but we had the same hazel eyes. The silver moon necklace at her throat glowed with power.
“Wouldn’t you love to meet her?” I asked the girl.
She couldn’t pull her eyes from the poster. “Love to, but it’s tomorrow, and I’ve got to be home tonight.”
“What if I could offer you the chance to not only meet her but learn from her?”
Her face whipped to me, and her eyes widened. She whispered with all the gentleness one said a prayer. “What?”
“I am Emilie des Marais, comtesse de Côte Verte, and I’m supposed to start my training at Mademoiselle Gardinier’s today but would much rather study the noonday arts at university,” I said, smile growing. She didn’t stop me, so some part of her was listening. “How would you like to pretend to be me and study the midnight arts at Mademoiselle Gardinier’s with your beloved Estrel while I take your last name and study the noonday arts?”
She stared. She did not say no.
“It will be dangerous, and I will do what I can to protect you if we are caught,” I told her softly, “but some dangerous things are worth the risk.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “Yes.”
I would prove myself, prove I wasn’t a disappointment or insult, and I would change Demeine. If the world wouldn’t give me the chance, I would take it myself.
I ate dirt as a child. Nothing grew the summer I turned six; Vaser’s dry fields filled only with cicada husks. Lord Sun had not been merciful, giving us endless days of heat without rain, and Monsieur Waleran du Ferrant, comte de Champ, whose family watched over our lands, hadn’t sent near enough help. Maman was pregnant with Jean, Papa was busy working, and Macé was seven and going through a growth spurt, crying till I gave him my supper. I’d cried too, but quiet, and pulled at my sides like I’d be able to pry open my ribs and scratch the hunger out of me. I’d been a good sister, then, and dirt was better than Macé crying. Tasted like the air after Alaine’s funeral pyre.
“Your family must be proud.” The shopkeeper smiled up at me and handed over the little satchel of everything Macé would need in Serre. “A varlet. There’s a good career for a country boy.”
I was not a good sister now.
“They’re very proud of him,” I said, tucking the packet into my bag. It wasn’t a lie. They were. Of him. “He’s leaving next week, and I’ll be sad to see him go.”
I’d be sad to see him go alone.
It was supposed to be us going—to university, not to Serre—to be hacks. We were supposed to study together, him the noonday and me the midnight arts, so we could both get jobs channeling magic for some rich artists who wanted all the results without getting worn down. I was supposed to go with him.
I’d always known I wasn’t as good as him, but I didn’t think Maman would make me stay in Vaser. Figured she’d be happy to see me go.
Probably why I’d been sent to pick up his supplies in Bosquet.
“Thank you,” I said. “There a baker in town? I’m supposed to buy him something sweet to celebrate.”
Our parents wanted to have a nice dinner before he left, and make sure he had some nice things to take with him so he wouldn’t be too out of sorts from the others training to assist the chevaliers. So long as no one asked him to do something that required paying attention for longer than five minutes, Macé would make a good varlet. Macé would be a step above a hack, helping Chevalier Waleran du Ferrant stay alive and channeling the noonday arts for him during fights so his noble body didn’t wear down too fast. They were honorable, varlets.
They were worth the money and time and sacrifice. I wasn’t.
The shopkeeper told me how to find a baker—said Bosquet was too small for a proper pâtisserie, which I didn’t believe for one second because there were more people and buildings here than I’d ever seen. As I’d left his store, he said, “Good luck to your brother, girl.”
“You’re not as good as you think you are, girl,” Maman had said yesterday morning. We’d been standing in the root cellar, she and I. The magic I’d been gathering to scry the day’s weather had scattered when I heard her steps, and I itched to draw it all back to me and lose myself in the one thing I knew for sure. “Your brother’s real good. The comte de Champ offered him this, and chances like these are once in a lifetime.”
I’d run my finger along the rim of my bowl and refused to look at her. “He’s not that good.”
“Annette Boucher, keep that jealousy out of your mouth, or I’ll wash it out.” She’d bent over me, wobbling, and patted my cheek too hard. Like she’d forgotten how. “We’re family, and family makes sacrifices. Now, you’re going to Bosquet and picking up what he needs. You can get something small for yourself too.”
She never asked. Just watched. She narrowed her eyes, the little crinkles of age bundled up in the corners like a handful of nettle cloth.
Bosquet was so much bigger than home. I slipped through one of the narrow alleys between two towering buildings, and wrapped and unwrapped my necklace around my fingers. The market was taking advantage of school starting up too, and nearly every available space was someone selling something. Country people brushed past rich merchant kids, and a rich girl glittering like gold in mud stopped at a stall serving food from our eastern neighbor Kalthorne. She bought dumplings topped with poppy seeds and dripping plum jam for her and her guards. She was nice at least.
She was still one of those destined for school, though. They’d use hacks, country kids like me who had magic but no money for training, to channel Mistress Moon’s power for them. They’d get to do the magic with none of the consequences.
I stopped, a rock in a river of people who couldn’t care less about me. I couldn’t see the end of the market, and the rows of trees leading past it were spotted with couples and families resting in the shade. A stall next to me sold sage water faster than the identical twins distributing it could pour, and the twin on the other side of the stall, clothed in a dusky purple and so focused on her work that her look of concentration made me feel like I should be working, lifted a jar of honey to the sunlight. A ribbon of power burned in it, the midnight arts trapped in a lemon slice. I leaned closer to get a better look.
“Drink it right before you need the illusion,” the girl said. “It’ll make it last a few minutes more than normal.”
There were three types of midnight arts—illusions, scrying, and divining—and illusions were the easiest to master. Scrying was harder, but it let you observe what was happening anywhere in the present, so long as you had a looking glass to see through and knew what you were looking for. The hardest art, divining the future, showed artists all the different possible futures and let them puzzle out which one was true. Most artists never mastered it.
I’d never been trained in the midnight arts, but I could do them without wearing myself down too fast like most people. Even on dark, new-moon nights, magic called to me, thrummed in my heart and urged me to use it. Magic was the only thing that wanted me.
“Something small,” I muttered to myself, walking away from the stall and onto the gravel-lined path beneath a line of trees. The interlaced branches were a blessing for my sunburned skin. There’d been no shade on the walk here. “Something small.”
At the end of the wall was a crowd, and a kid holding a twig like a knife ran past me.
“Ask her where Laurel is!” someone shouted after the kid. “I want that five-hundred-lune reward on his head.”
“Like His Majesty would ever pay up,” someone else shouted. “Ask her how to join Laurel.”
I took off for the crowd. Vaser got news two days late and two truths off, but everyone was waiting for news of Laurel. They’d started a petition for the king to release how much money the crown was spending, called the king a coward when he hadn’t answered, and pamphlets had started peppering Demeine with copies of nobles’ ledgers too specific to be fake. Papa had clucked and said they had a death wish. Macé had talked about nothing except the reward money His Majesty had offered up for Laurel’s capture. Not even the royal diviner Mademoiselle Charron had been able to find them.
I nudged my way to the front of the crowd till I could read the evergreen words on the parchment.
MADEMOISELLE GARDINIER, WITH GREAT THANKS TO THE GENEROUS DU FERRANTS, IS PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE MADEMOISELLE ESTREL CHARRON, ROYAL DIVINER TO HIS MOST BRIGHT MAJESTY HENRY XII, WILL BE PROVIDING HER SERVICES AS A MIDNIGHT ARTIST FOR THREE DAYS TO THOSE IN NEED OF SCRYINGS AND DIVINATIONS.
THE SESSIONS WILL BE HELD AT TOWN HALL AND BEGIN AT DUSK.
Estrel Charron was here. The best midnight artist in the country, the only royal diviner of this century not born from a noble family, was in Bosquet. And I could see her.
I twisted my necklace till the silver crescent moon was pressed against my palm and drew out the magic I had hidden in it. Solane, who’d been a physician’s hack before moving to Vaser for safety when the court and university started going after those “outside of Lord Sun’s dawn and Mistress Moon’s dusk and upsetting the traditional order,” had taught me how to do it. Solane had said I had promise. They were nice to lie.
I read through the poster again, certain I’d missed something, and rubbed my eyes. The words itched at me, a little twitch on the back of my neck. Someone had written over the poster in red ink and hidden it with an illusion, ensuring that any artists, no matter how untrained, would be able to see the red message for at least three days. After that, the magic stored in the paper to fuel the illusion would wear down the poster. It’d rot before anyone without magic even noticed the secret note.
A KING CANNOT REST ON HIS LAURELS
NOT ALL ARTISTS DIE YOUNG
ONLY COMMON HACKS DO
A dripping red crown of laurel leaves had been painted above the words.
It was the symbol and call of Laurel, but they couldn’t be in Bosquet. And why were they writing over Mademoiselle Charron’s papers? She didn’t use hacks.
Nearly all artists rich enough to afford them did. Magic corrupted, wearing down the bodies of artists who channeled it, so people paid country kids to channel for them. The artists directed the magic, but the hack bore the brunt of the power. After a few years of channeling, the hacks’ bodies broke down till they couldn’t channel or died. The artists were fine.
Most of Laurel’s posters said using hacks was amoral. They were right, but being right wasn’t much good when the folks we were up against had armies and weapons and decades of training in the arts. Without training, an artist channeling too much could wear their body to nothing but bone dust in a few days. I mouthed the words to myself.
A king cannot rest on his laurels. A king could rest on an army with weapons and magic, though.
“Wouldn’t you love to meet her?” some girl next to me asked.
Didn’t matter what I wanted. Maman and Papa would send people after me if I didn’t get Macé’s things home. “Love to, but it’s tomorrow, and I’ve got to be home tonight.”
“What if I could offer you the chance to not only meet her but learn from her?”
I turned to tell her to jog off, but the words stuck to my teeth. “What?”
She was all full moon, the sort of pretty only money could buy. Her silver dress was cinched tight, showing off the thick curves of her waist and hips, and a spill of pearls like snowfall was sewn into the silk. She’d long, brown hair twisted into an intricate crown of braids that were so slick, they looked fake. A signet ring, one of five, glittered on her left hand.
“I am Emilie des Marais, comtesse de Côte Verte, and I’m supposed to start my training at Mademoiselle Gardinier’s today. I would much rather study the noonday arts at university,” she said, as if comtesses said those sorts of things to me every day. She smiled, red paint smeared on her white, rich teeth, and all I could think about was how Maman would’ve chided me for such poor dress and manners. “How would you like to pretend to be me and study the midnight arts at Mademoiselle Gardinier’s with your beloved Estrel while I take your last name and study the noonday arts?”
I’d no words for this.
Was I even allowed to say no? Did I want to?
“It will be dangerous, and I will do what I can to protect you if we are caught,” she said, voice low, “but some dangerous things are worth the risk.”
Nobles never risked anything. Only we did. We studied and learned, and none of it mattered because they used us as hacks and wore down our bodies before we hit thirty. Even midnight artists channeling Mistress Moon’s mercifully gentle powers died sooner than later.
Midnight artists observe the world. You’ve already proven that’s too much responsibility for you.
Maybe the world was as it was because we’d let folks do things without looking too closely at them for so long. Maybe Maman wasn’t looking hard enough at me.
But I could make her see me.
“Yes.” I nodded, glancing round. No soldiers. No chevaliers. “Yes.”
“Brilliant.” She looked back, gaze on a carriage bright as the sun, and touched my hand. “I only have a moment before my mother wakes up, but she will walk me to Mademoiselle Gardinier’s estate and leave me there, assuming I will not be foolish enough to run off without money or a plan. However, if you meet me in the gardens, I can tell you everything you need to know.”
Pulling away, she yanked a silver cuff prettier than anything I’d ever seen from her wrist. One of her hands was raw and red, the skin looked like it had been burned. Least she hadn’t worn herself out too much. Her body could fix that.
I nodded. “You’ll have to send my family what I bought today. So long as they get everything back, they won’t look too hard for me.”
“Of course.” Her nose twitched, and not even the red paint on her lips could pretty her scowl. “I can complete whatever tasks are necessary.” Her expression shifted back to a wide smile. Mistress, this girl was fickle as fire. “Meet me near the cherry trees. If they don’t let you in, tell them you saw a girl drop this and wish to give it to Mademoiselle Gardinier yourself because there’s magic in it, and you don’t want it to hurt anyone.”
She pressed the silver cuff into my hand and darted away before I could speak. I tucked it into my purse.
Only a noble would throw away being a noble, but this was everything I’d ever wanted. Even if I were only there for a day, I’d come out knowing more than I did today.
And Estrel Charron was there.
She was as common as me and a genius. I could learn to be like her.
I could see the world and make it see me.
Excerpted from Belle Révolte, copyright © 2020 by Linsey Miller.