[Please note: I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange only for an honest and thorough review. This is (to the best of my ability) a spoiler-free review.]
In Aprilynne Pike’s Glitter, we are whisked away from the real world of the twenty-second century and ensconced in the world of corporate giant Sonoman-Versailles: a pocket country run by a business within the walls of one of the most famous historical sites. To top it off, those inhabiting this world have fully immersed themselves in the culture, the extravagance, and the courtly intrigue of the seventeenth century French elite. When the protagonist of Glitter, Danica Grayson, witnesses a horrible crime and her mother uses the truth as blackmail to secure Danica’s betrothal to the Sonoman-Versailles king, how far will she go to secure her own desires? Her own freedom? Her own safety? Her own life?
When I first discovered Glitter on Netgalley, I was immediately drawn to the blurb, “Marie Antoinette meets Breaking Bad.” I hadn’t known I needed this crossover until I knew I needed this crossover. And Glitter rarely disappointed in delivering, from a fascinating world of Versailles extravagance and technological advancement; a fascinating and feisty main female character; burning romance; and danger in every salon and ballroom.
Danica, her friends, her family, and her courtly enemies have all grown up in this pocket culture that replicates almost entirely — save for technological advancements such as water closets, service robots, communication contact lenses, and powerful smart computers — the world of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. She and those around her have lived, breathed, and fought this lifestyle so that the “outside” world seems foreign and unfathomable. Danica, for example, consistently wears her corset (an obsessive need that borders on self-harm) in an attempt to maintain any semblance of control and calm even when she is sneaking into Paris in jeans and a t-shirt. Throughout Glitter, Pike balances us on the brink between the courtly world — levers, ball gowns, salons, kings and queens — and the modern world — corporate coups, self-driving cars, and major socioeconomic class divisions. When it feels we have become too entrenched in the extravagant and rich lifestyle of the “Louies,” outside characters or modern interruptions recall us to these clashing worlds that Danica struggles to choose between.
Overall, Danica is a very interesting, well fleshed-out main female character who recognizes but still stumbles over her flaws and who, though she struggles to find them, holds tight to her values when need be. In a world in which words and minds are veritable weapons, Danica is adept at battling it out on both the social and political fields. Her many interactions with other characters — most especially with her blackmailed and heinous fiancé, King Justin of Sonoman-Versailles — exhibit her wide-range of intellectual strengths, well-played feminine wiles, and emotional struggles. Prior to her family’s placement at the palace of Versailles, Danica was studying mathematics, computer science, and coding, and it shows throughout the book, though I do wish it might have informed her character more consistently. As she herself notes and as her new acquaintance Saber points, Danica has a wavering moral compass. Interestingly, she recognizes this, laments it, and struggles to right it for most of Glitter rather than immediately rectifying the issue. Though she seems to be “typical young adult female character” for much of the book, much of Danica’s more interesting, more badass shines through when she is most put to the test.
Danica’s world becomes a constant struggle between selfishness and revenge, freedom and love. By embarking on her foray into black market drug sales to earn her escape from Versailles, she blurs the lines between these opposing values. Her acquaintance and narcotics assistant Saber points out her moral grayness and prompts her to grapple with her decisions and their repercussions. Partway through the endeavor, she questions her motives: “My conscience is frayed nigh to pieces; months ago I asked myself if my life was worth what it would take to raise this money. At the time I said yes. But now that it’s nearly here, I’m not so sure. Is it truly worth saving your life if you lose your soul in the process?”
And last but not least I must mention Saber. Because he looks at Danica like she smells like old cheese one minute and the next like she’s all he’s ever needed. Their relationship is a long, drawn-out series of rough patches and misunderstandings, unspoken judgements and horrible secrets, whispered promises and protective embraces. Though Saber can’t forgive Danica for her means of escape and she can’t forgive him for that either, they each become the other’s comfort and resting place. Besides, Saber knows how to clean up a crime scene to make it all look like an accident, and that’s always convenient, right? Also, he apparently has really nice shoulders.
Pike’s latest young adult novel delves into a world of unlimited extravagance, cutthroat morals, dangerous and burning romances, and a high cost of freedom. Glitter, the first book in a series, leaves us on a cliff-hanger, anticipating with bated breath Danica’s next move on the treacherous, amoral stage of Sonoman-Versailles. What is she willing to do to escape? Who and what is she willing to sacrifice in the process? And, in the end, will she find it all worth it?
Readers should be aware that this book does portray some mature themes such as drug use and overdoses as well as threatened sexual violence and abuse.
Aprilynne Pike’s Glitter was released today, Oct. 25, 2016, with Random House.
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Featured image by Donna Trope with Charlotte Free for “Don’t Be Cruel” feature, as originally published in Purple Fashion Fall/Winter 2014/2015 issue.