Friday 4 March 2022


Book review: The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield [blog tour]

I love a good historical fiction read with a fantastical element. So when I first heard about The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield – a story about Marie Antoinette and magic – I was immediately intrigued. And it didn't disappoint. The novel details a rich and complex part of European history and deftly intersperses it with layers of magic and illusion unlike anything else I've ever read.  

The Embroidered Book is a story of two sisters: Charlotte and Antoine. They're two of the children of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I. We first meet them as innocent and fairly clueless children, but as their older siblings die, and changes in Europe are afoot that their parents are trying to put a stop to, they became two cogs in a much bigger political machine. They have to marry to strengthen alliances across Europe and ensure a future for the Habsburg Empire. At 15 years of age, Charlotte is sent to Italy to become Queen of Naples. And Antoine is sent to France at the age of 14, where she will become their future Queen, better known as Marie Antoinette. 

Ripped apart and living two very different lives in different countries, Charlotte and Antoinette have one thing in coming: magic. They taught themselves the seeds of what is possible through a spell book they found from an old governess, but as they grow up and become queens of their respective kingdoms, their magic evolves and flourishes. The only problem is that the two sisters are not only physically apart, but magic creates another rift between them. Because while Charlotte joins the Order, a secret society practicing magic in different places in the world, Antoinette and her friends are what the Order calls – and hunts – as rogues. Those using magic without obeying the rules the Order has set up. 

And this magical conflict isn't the only impending war. As civil unrest brews across Europe, especially in France, a revolution is inevitable. Charlotte and Antoinette have difficult decisions to make, and have to choose their friends and enemies, magical and otherwise, very wisely...

We've all heard about Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, and the horrible faith that awaited her and Louis XVI at the end of their too-short lives. Her time at court overshadowed by rumours of debouchery and, surprisingly, cake (the infamous saying "Let them eat cake" wrongly being attributed to her). But, personally, I knew very little about what came before that; about her childhood, her extended family, and her early years in France. 

Author Kate Heartfield lifts the curtain on Marie Antoinette's "real" life for me at last (for as far as anything in history can be called real, of course, there are always perceptions and misinterpretations skewing what may have genuinely happened). And by putting magic into the story, Heartfield ensures that what could've been quite a stuffy historical read about complicated political alliances, turns into a hugely exciting and compelling one. And this fantastical element in the story felt so unique as well. The way spells were created and cast felt fresh and interesting, and the developments between the order and the rogues were unpredictable. This means that while I (vaguely) knew the story of Marie Antoinette, I could not predict how this interpretation would actually unfold and conclude. 

I will say though that this book is an absolute beast. At 650+ pages it is – and feels – very long. Too long at times. And some of the historical detail about their other siblings and changes in Europe, while factually accurate and adding a sense of realism to what is ultimately a fantasy story, detracted from the pacing of the plot. It didn't help that so many of the character names sounded similar to one another (nothing that could be helped by the author, as they're mostly based on true people), which became a bit confusing on those occasions I'd picked the book up again and I wasn't fully immersed into the story yet. 

Length aside, I was utterly gripped by The Embroidered Book. It is complex story of politics, war, and magic, with at it core something very simple: a tale of two sisters. Each carving out their own path in life based on what they believe is best for their families and their respective countries. While some of the sisters' decisions may seem contrary or brutal at first, because you get to know them as real people – daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers – you get an understanding of where they're coming from. It made them more relatable, despite the fact that they lived hundreds of years ago in a very different kind of society. 

And while some of their lives has been fictionalised, the fantastical elements fit so perfectly into what we do know about Charlotte and Antoinette today that I can only hope that they had something so exciting to distract them from the unfair hands they were dealt in life. 

The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield will be published by Simon and Schuster on 3 March 2022 and you can preorder your copy now from your favourite book shop.

Blog tour stops for 'The Embroidered Book' by Kate Heartfield

This review for 'The Embroidered Book' is a part of the official blog tour for the launch of the book. Make sure you check out the other stops!

Disclaimer: This book was gifted to me by the publisher, but this has not impacted this honest review.


  1. Thanks for the blog tour support x

  2. Really enjoyed reading your review - thank you

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