The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield 

I just learned more about the Hapsburgs, and in particular, Emperor Joseph, Leopold, Queen Marie Antoinette, and Charlotte of Naples (Weirdly, I hardly think of Italy at all in relation to the French & American revolution nor about how the eruptions of volcanoes literally toppled governmental systems) by reading this book then I did in US high school history classes.

Wow. I was very glad for the cast of characters in the front of the book as warning ,although Heartfield does an amazing job of developing the myriad advisors, friends, and magical colleagues of Charlotte and Antoinette just enough to keep them separate. (although near the end I did have to remind myself which sister had which main advisor and main adversary). Luckily the French names and Italian names helped alot!

So Charlotte and Antoine are close sisters sent away by their mother the Empress to marry Bourbons in France and Naples so as to cement power. It’s fairly brutal. Both girls find ways of preserving their sanity and influence via both friendships, and an elemental spell-based magic their nanny left to them via a book.

They soon find out that there is an official order (run by men of course) who hunt down and often kill “rogue” practitioners of magic.

This magic is closely woven into historical events (including the famous Marie Antoinette necklace affair, so cool!) around the revolutionary wars.

This system of magic is very, very cool and impactful on their characters in a deeply interwoven way because it requires sacrifice– often that of a particular kind of memory or hope. This over time really creates isolation and doubt…like when Antoinette sacrifices her love for a good friend, she still acts like she values her, but all emotional weight is gone.

Or when Charlotte makes the mistake of giving a list of council members to her political enemy Rohan and he mocks her for giving her a second list– because she’s sacrificed the memory of that day for some other reason she can’t remember.

Events do unravel as modern folks know they must according to commonly taught history, but it is an extremely compelling and edifying journey to the end.