TITLE: Dangerous Remedy
AUTHOR: Kat Dunn
GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy, LGBT
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 432 pages
PUBLISHER: by Head of Zeus
RELEASE DATE: ebook available from May 7th, 2020 | hardcover to be released August 6th, 2020
Blurb from Goodreads:
Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?
In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.
Kat Dunn’s debut novel Dangerous Remedy is a fast-paced historical fantasy romp set in the French Revolution during the Reign of Terror. Left an orphan after her parents were executed, our protagonist Camille leads her battalion in a courageous and noble effort to rescue other prisoners headed for the guillotine and reunite them with their loved ones.
The book opens with a short summary of the current political state in France to help set the scene. Way too long ago in my final year of high school, I studied History: Revolutions which covered this particular time period and it was interesting to see a few familiar names and dates seeded throughout the novel. It’s clear that the author has done her research, but the setting needed to be fleshed out more in order to keep readers invested in the political conflict. There are some books where you’re thrown in blind and gradually piece together details through observing the characters, but that isn’t the case here as we learn little more throughout the book than we did at the start, and it’s as though the clashing ideologies of the French Revolution and resulting impact on its society are presumed to be common knowledge.
A huge issue for Camille and crew is being caught between a rock and a hard place after they rescue a girl with never-before-seen powers that the Royalists and Revolutionaries desperately want to use to advance their cause. The battalion go through hell and back to try and keep Olympe out of the clutches of both sides, but they’re basically interchangeable for all we know of their background and motivations. It feels like Camille and the others are basically on the run from a single group because the antagonists aren’t clearly distinct in their principles and worldviews, and as they’re very thinly sketched out villains, I found it difficult to recall which name belonged to which party. I did appreciate what I believe to be the overall message that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease (ie. that the increasingly brutal methods taken to overthrow the monarchy and its supporters eventually made the revolution as corrupt as the royals and aristocrats they condemned), but it needed a stronger background to make this message ring with clarity and conviction.
Our heroine Camille and her girlfriend Ada are the most fully-formed characters in the battalion as they have the benefit of alternating chapters devoted to their point of view, and their romantic relationship as well as their family bonds are explored and allowed to grow and develop. I found Ada particularly sympathetic because she voluntarily left her life of comfort and privilege to live with Camille in run-down crumbling bases to support her risky prison-break schemes out of love for her. Unfortunately they start off the book as an established couple so we don’t see them fall in love or understand why she sacrificed everything for Camille. Guillaume the deserter and Al the aristocrat in hiding have few choices left to them, so their involvement with Camille makes more sense, but neither receives much character development. However Al is particularly witty and responsible for most of the fun banter in this book, which makes him an enjoyable character.
Camille herself is a frustrating character – through the writing, we’re given to understand that she’s a clever charismatic leader who’s been the architect of many daring and triumphant rescue efforts, but we don’t have the opportunity to see this in action. I understand that a story where everything goes exactly according to plan and it all works out perfectly for the protagonist would be rather dull, but Camille careens from one ill-thought-out escapade to the next without learning anything from her skirmishes with the enemy. Even worse, she’s the type of heroine who requires rescuing, but then boldly asserts that she could’ve handled the situation herself, even with all evidence pointing to the contrary.
It’s certainly realistic that a teenage girl wouldn’t be very experienced or proficient in planning heists, and it’s worth noting that at various points, a couple characters express doubt in her abilities which is a relief given the trainwreck from each scheme of hers we read about. However I question why she is established as this great mastermind in the first place when the girl who is unwilling to take a comrade to hospital for near-fatal wounds because it’s not safe for anyone to know where they are is the same girl who doesn’t question an old acquaintance randomly showing up at the door of their hide-out. You’d think that would raise some alarm bells for someone involved in underground resistance!
Dangerous Remedy has a unique premise set in a time period we don’t see explored much in YA fiction and I give credit to the author for including multiple diverse characters. The story itself struggles to overcome the poor world-building and a heroine who’s billed as more accomplished than she acts, but other characters like Ada and Al are endearing, the intrigue around Olympe’s powers is a great hook and the action steadily increases in excitement and intensity which makes this easy to binge-read.
Personal Rating: 2 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
Disclaimer: digital copy provided free from the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.