I am so excited to bring you this interview with Kester Grant, author of The Court of Miracles. It’s a fantastic new release with heists, a magical Paris, and a great cast of characters. Keep reading this author interview for The Court of Miracles with all the questions I had after reading.
The Court of Miracles
In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie).
When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.
What were your first impressions reading Les Mis and The Jungle Book? What do you think will resonate with readers from the original for those who might not have read or be familiar with the originals?
The first time I read the first and second Jungle Book, I was entranced. Firstly, I fell madly in love with Bagheera, which plays out very well since Eponine “Nina” Thenardier, the Black Cat of the Thieves Guild is a version of Bagheera in The Court of Miracles – acting as Cosette’s street wise mentor and guide to the criminal jungle of Paris. I also really disliked Mowgli and wished heartily that the book was only about animals and not about humans – I think all these childhood issues have made their way into my writing because I have an animal fantasy called Goldenpaw coming out in 2021 (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42070724-goldenpaw?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=tq0TulpaT6&rank=1) which is basically my version of the Jungle Book on speed – plenty of animals being amazing– no humans.
I think that Jungle Book fans will have fun spotting which character was based on which Jungle Book animal or clan. But for those who’ve never read it or seen it, fear not. The jungle book elements are very layered in, giving the criminal underworld a sense of mythology and richness, you don’t need to know anything at all about the original source material going into TCOM. But the basic premise is that a young vulnerable human boy (Mowgli) is adopted into a dangerous jungle of wild creatures, through which he is guided and taught by a black panther (Bagheera) and a bear (Orso). In TCOM, a young naïve little girl (Cosette) is adopted into a dangerous criminal underworld (the Miracle Court) where she is guided and taught by her adopted sister (Eponine – the Black Cat) and Lord Orso. The Miracle Court also has a complex rules, laws and hierarchy and guilds and clans like the Jungle Book.
The first time I read Les Misérables, which was after having seen the musical – was in the original French and boy was it super long and very very dull in places. Also it cemented my undying hatred for Marius Pontmercy who is 100% worse in the novel than the musical/movie…which is why I cut him out of TCOM entirely mwahahah! And it started me down the road of realizing that Eponine is a fabulous and severely underrated character!
The world building in Court of Miracles is fabulous, how did the idea of the world come to be? Were there things that vastly changed with each draft?
I built the world on historical fact, and added in a dash of alternate history, a French revolution that had failed, Napoleon never having come to power. I stole the idea of an organized criminal underworld from Hugo’s other great classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame, layered in complex laws and mythologies inspired by the Jungle Book. I write very sparsely, almost like a screenplay, all dialogue and action. Thus, I had to go back in several drafts and layer description and details of what people and places looked like, and a whole draft was focused on “mythology” – which is what I call making the world of the Miracle Court seem rich and nuanced, like a fantasy world but without any magic. That was done by adding expressions, greetings, salutations, curses, stories, legends, ceremonies, all little things that demonstrated that the Miracle Court were a different people with their own identity separate from all other characters in the book.
Stories are a huge part of Court of Miracles, can you talk a little bit about the importance of stories within Court of Miracles? Did you always know that stories were going to play a huge role within your book?
I love stories within novels, and I have a terrible tendency to add them automatically. The Jungle Books are collections of short stories, and within these the character of Hathi the elephant is the storyteller, or keeper of the Jungle’s history. This inspiration was kept in TCOM where the equivalent of Hathi and Baloo is Lord Orso, keeper of the Miracle Court’s histories.
The Miracle Courts’ stories came from wanting to create a rich cultural identity for the Wretched – Much of our language and behavior in the West is based on religion or historical events, well the Miracle Court is not religious, thus who would they swear or curse by? I created backstories of the founders of the Miracle Court and figured that they would be the mythological heroes referred to, and whose stories were told in a legendary way.
Nina is fiercely loyal and also struggling to figure out her place in a world that maintains the idea of justice and order, while also having a dangerous shadow. What was your first image of Nina? How was it to write Nina’s voice and personality?
The very second the story came to me I saw Nina in my mind’s eye, she came to me as a fully formed character. It was a stormy night, she was drenched to the skin, hanging off the side of a building that she’d just broken into. She was exhausted searching the windows of every house in the city looking for her lost sister. I’ve never had to figure out her voice, or character, she just always was.
She divided readers from the first draft, one or two early readers disliked her calling her prickly and hard to care about, but the majority raved about her character – and honestly she came out so complete that changing her at all would have felt like lobotomizing an existing person. The only changes I made to Nina’s story was that I was brave enough to make her even more morally grey in character than initially planned. Two major incidences in the book both are spoilers, where she uses people, manipulates and schemes, were added in later, they gave her more agency and had her be more active than reactive as a character.
Other characters can be tweaked and adjusted, but my main characters seem to come out fully formed. I had the same experience writing my middle Grade novel Goldenpaw, Sang, the Golden Langur was entirely herself on her first appearance and has never changed one whit.
Another interesting point was that Nina and her relationship with the city and the Miracle Court is heavily influenced by the characters of Samuel Vimes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, and Batman’s relationship with Gotham. In truth Nina is suffering from deep PTSD, and is terrified all of the time. But in a world as fractured and cruel as hers, you barely notice that at all.
Ettie just may be my favorite character, can you talk about the differences or similarities in writing Ettie’s character with Nina?
I am so glad to hear you say Ettie is a favourite. She’s the character I had the hardest time with, probably because I am not fond of Cosette in general, this showed itself clearly when I wrote my early drafts – Ettie was really really annoying, probably because I find Cosette annoying. My editor encouraged me to make her less slap-worthy and empower her. Reminding myself that this was my story and I could adjust Ettie as much as I liked beyond the original source material, I had to really strive to give her a character that was lovable and kind, naïve and beautiful without being automatically annoying because of it. One of the first steps was cutting Marius Pontmercy out of my book. He appeared in TCOM and the love triangle that I hate so much from Les Miserables was also present. Removing Marius meant freeing both Nina and Ettie from this problematic relationship trope and allowed me to really think about who they were for one another and why. What if they loved each other more than any guy? What if they were as close as sisters? What wouldn’t they be willing to do for each other? I think in a way, once I had cut Marius, Ettie’s true character automatically asserted itself without me thinking about it. I knew she wouldn’t be a romantic rival for Nina in this book because that’s not who she is. She loves Nina.
A theme I loved in Court of Miracles was this idea of responsibility and accountability. Can you talk about what these two words mean for Nina?
I don’t think Nina realizes why she does the things she does, she’s a deeply traumatized girl living in very horrific times who simply reacts in a natural way to the world around her. That said, I believe that subconsciously we can pick Nina apart.
She grew up motherless in an abusive home with a violent father, used to beatings, and cat-burglary. Her older sister Azelma was her mother figure – until their father sold her into slavery to a trafficker. Desperate for a mother figure, Nina is obsessed with freeing her sister Azelma, she internalizes the myth that the cruel “City” of Paris is her true mother – and a very bad one at that. Its streets and rooftops are her home, in times of great stress she even hallucinates that the city speaks and she can hear its words. It is a desperate plea of a motherless child for a mother, and ties her sense of duty to the city as strong as ties of blood would tie her to a family. The only father Nina has known is the violent Thenardier, who would literally sell her if he thought he could turn a profit. Thus, she gladly accepts the adoption of Tomasis Vano, Lord of the Thieves Guild as her actual father, lavishing her loyalty and affection on him instead. I also believe Nina’s obsession with the Courts laws and justice stems from a subconscious desire to create order and justice in a world that is cruel and violent. Nina’s sense of responsibility, or accountability, are all woven out of these things.
Do you have other favorite heist novels you can recommend?
The Lies of Locke Lamora, Mistborn, Six of Crows and The Gilded Wolves all spring to mind.
About the Author
Kester Grant is a British-Mauritian writer of color. She was born in London, grew up between the UK, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the tropical island paradise of Mauritius. As a wanton nomad she and her husband are unsure which country they currently reside in but they can generally be found surrounded by their fiendish pack of cats and dogs.