“Book Review: The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment”
Reviewed by Rosa Kumar
A dark fairytale romance set in the intellectual landscape of Enlightenment France
If you’ve ever wanted to read a fresh version of Beauty and the Beast, and when I say fresh, I mean dark, sensual, and dotted with Enlightenment-era philosophical discussions, then Therese Doucet’s The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment is exactly what you’ve been looking for.
The novel’s protagonist Violaine is a little bit different than the virginial Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Though both Belle and Violaine love books, Violaine reads books that an 18th century woman probably shouldn’t have access to; she is a widowed mother of two, and she doesn’t totally mind being sold by her father to be a mysterious wealthy nobleman’s companion – though she only felt like a prisoner for a brief time before getting used to the intellectual freedom the castle and the nobleman afforded her.
“‘Do you wish to leave?’
“‘No,’ I found myself answering honestly, surprised to feel the truth of it.”
This mysterious Marquis has a palace run by invisible servants; he allows Violaine to get familiar with the grounds and library, and they exchange letters to get to know each other until eventually she is ready to meet him. The Marquis visits her only at night; she does not know what he looks like, only that their nights are passionate and their intellectual connection deep. The mystery of his appearance works wonders for my curious readerly mind.
The castle is eventually populated by other Enlightenment-era intellectuals who are invited by the Marquis to escape to the French countryside of Boisaulne where they are free to discourse, read, and create things that they could otherwise be persecuted for; the political undertones of the novel reflect real-life struggles of individuals during the Enlightenment period who struggled to reconcile their views with the Church. In that way, this novel fits neatly into a sort of historical fantasy genre, offering plenty of both for a myriad of readers to enjoy.
“It appears the domain of Boisaulne borders on several villages of heretics…these depraved dregs of humanity ought to have been wiped out with the rest of their kind a century ago.”
This novel combines several fairy-tales and myths, and darkens them to appeal to an edgy adult audience. Though at times it does feel as though the story is going a bit off track, Violaine’s personal growth and passions are always brought to the forefront again. It is refreshing to read a novel where a strong widowed mother is at the forefront of the fairytale, and not your usual helpless damsel. This intelligent retelling weaves us through history with fantasy, grounding us and opening our doors to enlightenment.
Publisher: DX Varos
Paperback: 284 pages
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