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The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment

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A lover in and of the darkness ...
Violaine, a devotee of books and learning, is sold by her father to a mysterious nobleman to become his companion. Fearing herself at the mercy of a monster, Violaine instead succumbs to the seductive spell of her magical new home, and the love of a man she has never seen, who comes to her only in the darkness of night.
The Château de Boisaulne is a place of many mysteries, but also a refuge for children of the Enlightenment in a time when Europe still languishes under the repressive chains of monarchy and superstition. But modern thought meets ancient lore, as the castle borders the forest lair of the roi des aulnes, an ogre said to be the ancestor of Violaine’s unseen lover ... or are they one and the same?

266 pages, Paperback

First published February 4, 2020

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About the author

Therese Doucet

2 books149 followers
My historical novel with magical realist elements, "The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment," was published by D.X. Varos in February 2020. I'm also the author of "A Lost Argument: A Latter-Day Novel," published through my own Strange Violin Editions micropress imprint in 2011.

My fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in literary magazines including Embark, Hotel Amerika, and Bayou Magazine, and an essay of mine was selected for the Notable Essays list in "Best American Essays 2011." I'm also a creative writing residency fellow of the Virginia Center for Creative Arts.

I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and then studied philosophy and classics at Brigham Young University. My graduate studies included a Fulbright Fellowship year at the University of Hamburg in Germany and degrees in cultural history from the University of Chicago and in public policy from The George Washington University. I currently divide my time between Washington, D.C., and Knoxville, TN.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 44 reviews
August 9, 2022
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher at the author's request.

I remember watching Disney's Beauty and the Beast countless times with my kids when they were much younger, so it's not surprising that the beginning of The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment would seem very familiar. It's not an exact retelling of the movie. Just enough of the basics to feel familiar. Even when the story veers from the children's movie themes into decidedly adult themes, the storyline retains the thread of the fairy tale. Those adult themes include Violaine (the book's equivalent of Belle from the movie) readily surrendering to the "Beast's" carnal urges and a group of Enlightenment era aristocrat types gathering for a summer of philosophizing and interacting in ways that would make the Marquis de Sade proud. That's not to say the story becomes as libertine as de Sade's writing. It just borrows from his themes to create an atmosphere that gives an interesting twist to the fairy tale. Toward the end, threads of the myth of Psyche and Cupid are blended seamlessly into the mix. Being a fairy tale, there has to be a happily ever after ending, but this one has a much more realistic turn than do most fairy tales.

The prose here has a lyrical quality that sets the fairy tale feel to the story. The narrative is in first person present and is done so well that it doesn't overpower the story as do most such narratives. This is, in fact, one of the few such narratives that I've actually been able to enjoy. It's a fairly quick read and the plot twists and turns in ways that easily lead the reader along in search of what comes next.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale or myth retelling with a decided twist to it or even just a good romantic adventure, with the caveat that it may not be suitable for very squeamish or easily offended personalities.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 12 books1,269 followers
November 14, 2019
Back when I was writing book reviews for a living, I found myself rather charmed by Therese Doucet's 2011 debut novel, the semi-autobiographical "reformed Mormon finally learns about the big wide world" tale A Lost Argument (see my review); so I was pleased a few weeks ago to accept a review copy of her latest, The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment by the brand-new genre small press DX Varos, despite the fact that it's a style of story I usually don't read by choice for pleasure. I was under the impression at first that it was going to be a "high fantasy" novel in the style of JRR Tolkien, but it turns out to be more like a Medieval Chivalric tale with a touch of magical realism; but the big twist here (not-so-spoiler alert: it's right in the book's title) is that our charming, morally pure, castle-owning hero is actually supposed to be one of the forerunners of the Enlightenment in the early 1700s, and that the wooing he does of our put-upon peasant heroine Violane is based mostly around rationality and respecting her opinion as a strong, independent woman. #MeTooSwoon!

I have to admit, I found the story only so-so when I began, but I grew to like it more and more as the page count continued, mostly because Doucet is great at painting a delightfully diverting fairytale land of intellectual salons and fanciful masquerade balls, cleverly combining all the usual tropes of a cheapie paperback romance novel with the intelligence and sophistication of the Age Of Rationality times her characters are about to grow into. (As she explains in the afterword, most of the people spending the summer in the "Château de Boisaulne" where our story takes place are actually based on real figures from the Enlightenment, such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and the Marquis de Sade.) But that said, Doucet ain't kidding with her heraldic pastiche here, and so you better go into this with an appreciation for tales about fluttering damsels and bosom-heaving nighttime rendezvous if you want any chance of enjoying this at all, a book not exactly for "Wheel Of Time" fans but rather those who enjoy Fleetwood Mac album cover art. It comes specifically recommended to this specific audience, those who enjoy their fantasy tales with a dollop of court intrigue and a couple of motley fools thrown in for good measure, a step higher than the usual chivalric romance novel because of adding such a unique and clever new element to it.
Profile Image for Marquise.
1,687 reviews284 followers
February 29, 2020
In all my years reading fairy tale retellings, this is the first one I find set in Enlightenment France, the time and place in which the original fairy tale was written, as well as the first that has a character at least partially inspired by the author of Beauty and the Beast. Delightful surprise!

The story is about Violaine Bergeret, a young Savoyard widow from a mountain village settled by members of a heretic sect called the Vaudois, formerly fiercely persecuted and currently protected by the local lord, the Marquis de Boisaulne. Her merchant father has a strike of disastrous commercial setbacks that leave him too deep in debt, and here's where the Beauty and the Beast elements enter the stage: ruined marchant goes to city on hearing ships have arrived with his merchandise, creditors beat him to it and collect all debt, ruined merchant ends up in the castle of a mysterious lord, sells his daughter to mysterious lord in exchange for his debt. Familiar, isn't it? And that's the opening chapter, so you're not going to mistake which fairy tale is the inspiration.

But Violaine is no self-sacrificing Belle. She tries to escape with her children, and is caught. With her father arrives the marquis' right-hand man, Monsieur du Herle, who takes the resigned girl to the creepy castle of his master. it's not hard to guess that M. du Herle is the marquis from his first appearance, to be honest. Or maybe it's just me that spotted the cliché a mile away, but it's really surprising that Violaine takes so long to make the connection that her very first descripton of du Herle makes clear... Enfin! We'd have no plot if characters were as perceptive as readers, heh.

At the castle, she is left alone to wander with some silly excuse du Herle makes up, is attended by mysterious ghost servants, and can communicate with the marquis through notes left on her favourite book, which happens to be magical. Oh, and she reads, reads, and keeps reading in the enormous library, but only "serious" stuff, as the author name-drops so many big names as to make Louis XIV's librarian green with envy. Typical B&B paraphernalia, but I do wish authors actually made an effort to make Beauty a cultivated person and not just tell us she is or drop book titles to reinforce the point.

She's not the only guest at the castle, however. Soon, we're introduced to a veritable Geniuses' Gallery as the rest of the guests appear. They are Aurore, a salonnière who pens fairy tales; Clio, a precocious painter and portraitist; Séléné, who must be George Sand's lost French twin; Tristan, a novelist and pamphleteer with too many ideals for the good of his wallet; the Scotsman, whose ugly face hides a beautiful mind; Ulysse, who's clearly Leonardo da Vinci's French twin; and Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, who was into BDSM before it was cool.

No, no, no... Scratch that last bit. Just Donatien. But honestly, you can't blame me for guessing this Donatien was Sade from the very first line and long before the Author's Note confirmed he was based on the old pervert.

Anyway, this bunch of big brains spend mornings, afternoons, and nights discussing everything under the sun, from philosophy to politics to religion to moral to trashy chick-lit (because trashy chick-lit has been 'round since humankind learnt to write), all the while the supposedly super-smart and well-read Violaine does little but be a recording camera and reserves the lofty discusions about life's important matters for her unseen lover. Yes, that's right, she has a lover she doesn't see. Cupid and Psyche much? True. The plot goes from B&B to Cupid and Psyche real fast when the hitherto absent Marquis de Boisaulne appears at last, to reveal he's a major creep on the night. No, seriously, he is. He goes to her bedroom as she's asleep, does nothing but stare with his Superman eyesight in the dark, and they talk in the dark, too, about all the lofty matters Violaine can't debate with the Brainy Bunch but somehow can with Monsieur le Marquis.

I thought that would be all: just a collection of geniuses debating genius topics at a gothic castle, with a couple of lovers in the background to check the retelling box. It's Donatien who comes up with the name of Château des Lumières (castle of enlightenment) for the place, and to be honest, I was as bored as him during this middle-of-the-book section, that reads a bit much like authorial self-indulgence. But then new elements are introduced, things become complicated, and weirdness ensues. There's a local legend about the Erl-King, whom they call le roi des aulnes in those lands, and from whom the lords of Boisaulne are supposed to be descended. This magical ancestry comes in handy when the brutal Marquise du Herle makes her bloody entrance, and things go south for Violaine, her married lover the Marquis, and the Brainy Bunch.

I didn't like the story at first, even though it captured my attention in the first chapter mainly because I'm a hopeless fan of the B&B tale and easy to trap with original reworkings of it. I wasn't connecting with Violaine at all, and not being a fan of first person POVs wasn't helping any. It was only when we arrive at the castle that I started to like the story, because of the other characters, especially Aurore, Clio, and Séléné, all three of them far more interesting than insipid Violaine. I'd have preferred either multiple POVs or a third person limited POV narrative structure, which would've shown us more of the secondary characters and limited the author's tendency to pontificate when the secondaries are talking. Alas, we got what we got.

Another issue for me besides that was that initially I didn't find the gathering of luminaries quite credible, not because of the characters themselves, for they're not the real-life ones but creations inspired by real people like Voltaire, Hume, Sade, etc.; and because given the fashion of salons and intellectual gatherings of the period, it's perfectly plausible and it did actually happen in a few cases that big name Enlightenment figures coincided. It was magic. That the castle was enchanted. That the forest of alders was enchanted. That the Erl-King actually existed. That the Marquis had magical powers. I don't think the magical elements were necessary, and that the story could've worked well without magic, or with so little magic as to be negligible. It's a matter of preference, but when there's purely historical retellings of a tale, I appreciate that it's kept magic-less and purely historical, and not because I don't like fantastical/magical retellings (I do, very much) but because of a preference for plausibility and credibility. I do admit, however, that the sharp contrast between the logical, coldly analytical Enlightenment and the supertitious, magical legend of the alder king is quite a nice contrast. Old world vs new world conflict, anyone?

Finally, there's language. I wish authors let go already of the bad habit of putting common phrases/words and "translating" stuff during conversation in a foreign language when it's not necessary. By all means, do put uncommon or untranslatable stuff in French, but please knock it off with everyday words and repeating the same thing in French and English in the same sentence! I mean things like when you have Aurore say "my fairy tales, mes contes des fées." That's repeating "fairy tales" twice, and no native French speaker talks like that; it's unnatural. Also, words that are common and perfectly translatable, like sexe. Is it really necessary that Violaine say that in French? We already know it's referring to the python between the Marquis' legs whether it's in French or English. This habit is redundant, it's pretentious, it doesn't lend the story any additional sense of time or place; it only shows a need to show off your linguistic knowledge, and you run the risk of embarrassing yourself before native speakers of the language.

All said, I did end up liking the story. I'm really grateful for the original setting and for the secondary characters especially. I'd not have expected to find Mesdames de Villeneuve and de Beaumont reflected in a retelling like they are in Aurore (I thought at first she might be Madame d'Aulnoy, heh), and was also pleasantly surprised to see Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, one of my favourite painters, reflected in Clio. So, whilst I still didn't care for Violaine by the end of the book, it was a lovely read for me and I'd recommend this to all who love fairy tales.
Profile Image for Sara Snarr.
251 reviews4 followers
January 3, 2020
Doucet is a gifted story teller. She pulls the reader swiftly along on this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, especially in the second half as things start to unravel. She sets her tale in 17th century Savoy among attendees of the Parisian philosophical salons which introduces interesting new twists to an old tale. I wanted to give this new novelist's book four stars--she is clearly an amazing writer and her creativity provided much to think about. I particularly enjoyed her setting--the hidden estate in the Savoyard countryside enhanced by magic. And Doucet has clearly done her research on the location, culture, and great thinkers of the time. The philosophical conversations among visitors to the estate add a fascinating element to the story.

My hesitation comes less from her writing than from the original fairy tale itself. I have yet to come across a version of Beauty and the Beast that overcomes the unfortunate Stockholm-Syndrome-like central idea of a woman who is held against her will falling for her captor. Doucet presented a well-thought-out premise for her Belle-substitute Violaine and her change of heart toward her captor. I can't imagine anything more plausible. But I still just couldn't buy it. Without offering spoilers, the Marquis (the Beast) offered his reasons for keeping Violaine in the dark and ignorant of his motives and intentions, but it still felt condescending to me. In this MeToo age, I keep hoping for a version of this story that gives Belle voice and equal power. But Disney or not, it seems like Beauty and the Beast boils down to a woman held isolated until she gives in. Despite all that Violaine is required to sacrifice, and it is so very much, she falls passionately in love with her captor (sensitive readers should know this is NOT a children's story). Violaine is presented as an intelligent and independent woman yet she is enthralled with this mystery man and gives her heart and body to him, a man essentially holding her hostage, whom she has never seen in daylight, and with whom she has only held nighttime conversations in the dark. Come on girl, hold out for that equal relationship and not one based on a power play!

But expect great things from Doucet. Can't wait to see what else she puts her hand to. Her first two books have suggested good things to come from a very talented author.

*I received an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a review.
Profile Image for Michael Austin.
Author 113 books236 followers
February 9, 2020
The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment is a remarkable work of fiction that manages to be a number of things at once: it is (among many other things) a variation on a popular fairy tale, a novel of manners, a good adventure story, and a philosophical tale. And it takes place in a well-researched historical setting with an environment, and a society, that the author holds with obvious esteem and affection.

Let’s unpack all of this a little bit, keeping nasty spoilers to a minimum.

The novel begins as a recognizable variation of the Beauty and the Beast tale. The heroine, a literate and intellectually curious Savoyard widow named Violaine, is sold by her father to a mysterious Marquis from a nearby castle. The father is not malicious, merely pragmatic--he cannot afford to support Violaine and her two children, and the Marquis offers to care for her and support her family. She tries to escape, but eventually accepts her fate and travels to the castle, which turns out to be 1) enchanted (we don’t quite get to singing teapots, but it comes close) and 2) possessed of a marvelous library of floor-to-ceiling books to which Violaine has unfettered access.

And there is a beast, sort of. At least there is a man who writes her letters (which magically appear) and allows her to decide when she will meet him and both if and when they will become lovers (light spoiler: they do). But the man comes only at night, telling vague tales of a faerie realm and an ogrish ancestor. (Did I mention that stuff appears out of nowhere, and anything she asks for magically appears?)

After about a third of the novel, though, Doucet deftly widens her scope and takes the novel from the familiar fairy tale to an inventive novel of aristocratic manners. After her first night with the ambiguously beastly lover, she wakes up to find a houseful of guests--all of whom have been invited by the Marquis whom they have never actually seen. The assembled group of eight (not counting the Marquis’ major domo, a minor nobleman named Harlequin), four men and, including Violaine four women.

The group includes all of the sorts of people you would find in a typical 18th century Parisean salon--and, a hundred years or so later, in the pages of Marcel Proust: an artist, a writer, a painter, a Scottish philosopher, several wealthy aristocrats, and one debauched and wealthy rake. These people are capable of sparkling conversation that allows the author to present and test some of the novels’ important ideas about religion, society, truth, and beauty--you know, stuff like that.

And they also sleep with each other in almost every pairing imaginable. This sexuality is an important part of the novel, but it is neither graphic nor gratuitous. Doucet describes the various pairings almost bashfully (or maybe it only seems bashful because all of the good stuff is in French). Sexuality is part of the philosophy that the novel tests. Much like Rabelais’ Abbey of Thélème--which I suspect is an inspiration somewhere in the background--the community sees pleasure as something inherently good when given and received freely. And as something destructive when achieved by coercion or force.

This middle section of the novel was my favorite part: it is where Doucet brings all of the big ideas out to play--and where the obvious allegory of “The Castle of Enlightenment” makes the most sense. The participants create a classless society (men and women participate equally, and everybody uses invented names to avoid class-based distinctions). Art and philosophy are valued highly, religious discussions are highly naturalistic, and nobody is terribly hung up about sex.

Then, of course, things go drastically awry.

The final third of the novel cycles back to a fairy tale plot, but it is much darker than the first. The world of this part of the novel is the dangerous mirror-world of Faerie, where nothing is as it seems and where most of the players are motivated by either mischief or malice. The non-magical world that comes into play is equally malicious, with the agents of malice being the Church and the corrupt aristocracy with their suffocating and self-serving definitions of virtue.

The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment is engaging, quick-paced, well-plotted, and charming as hell. I loved it and will be waiting anxiously for the next books, may they be many, by the talented Ms. Doucet.
Profile Image for Therese.
Author 2 books149 followers
October 7, 2021
Author's note - The first chapter of the novel was featured as an excerpt in Embark Literary Journal. It's available here.

Advance praise:

"Political, social, and psychological insights accompany Violaine's journeys to keep readers immersed in a story that defies easy categorization. From romance and fairy tale allusions to historical and philosophical foundations, The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment may best be described as a surreal journey through the changing, challenging world of the European Enlightenment era. This is powered by a feisty young woman who searches for and struggles with a different kind of love that turns out to hold her in thrall just as she finds ways to return the favor. The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment's gripping story will delight readers seeking both complexity and evocative reading." - D. Donovan, Midwest Book Review

"Set against an exquisitely rendered French gothic backdrop, The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment is an intelligently erotic page-turner not to be missed." - Joe McGinniss Jr., Kirkus Prize finalist and author of Carousel Court and The Delivery Man

"At the center of Therese Doucet’s enchanting debut novel is a library teeming with rare and unusual volumes. The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment feels like a book pulled from its shelves, a heady mix of historical fiction, fairy tale, philosophy, demonology, and romance. Call it baroquepunk—a fantasy of the French Enlightenment with a libertine edge and a goth heartbeat." - Jeff Jackson, author of Destroy All Monsters: The Last Rock Novel and Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist

"The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment took me on a journey, to France, to centuries ago, to the exotic and erotic castle where ideas and philosophy are debated and fought over, and the desire to learn more, to be more, to love more deepens, especially as night descends. Unforgettable. A fabulist, fabulous tale from a new novelist to watch." - Caroline Bock, author of Carry Her Home, Before My Eyes, and LIE

"Therese Doucet’s novel, The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment, is historical fiction set in 18th-century France, but in her depiction of a young widow urged by her father to become a Marquis’s mistress in order to ensure their family’s safety, we can see the age-old war over women’s bodies and their right to autonomy." - Embark Literary Journal
31 reviews3 followers
June 4, 2020
This is a retelling of the well-known "Beauty and the Beast" intended for a mature audience. The main character, Violaine, is a widow who is forced to live in a magical castle as the companion of a mysterious Marquis because her father needs the money the Marquis has promised in exchange. The story takes place in France during the age of the enlightenment and is told in first person, from Violaine's point of view.

Violaine is a feminist of her own time, a free thinker like the friends she make during her stay at the Castle of Enlightenment and sexually experimental. None of the sex scenes are explicit, but I'd still class this as a thematically pretty sexual story. The love that grows between Violaine and her beast is not the most romantic of sorts, so if you're hoping for a fairy tale-like love story, this isn't that retelling. It explores different types of relationships and friendships though. I enjoyed the magical elements, like the king of the forest and the castle, though toward the end of the story the main antagonist's reaction to the magic went completely unmentioned, as if it had stopped existing.

There were a few points in the story where I thought the chapter breaks were oddly placed and at some point in the dialogue the characters underlined the fact that they were European in an unnatural way (I suppose the target audience is American so maybe the reminder is needed). Apart from that, some words were written in French. The story is obviously English, but the characters are speaking French, and therefore it seems odd to leave some words untranslated, especially when there's no pressing reason not to translate them. Also, for example Hades, the god's name, was spelled in a French rather than English for no apparent reason. These untranslated French words in the middle of the story ranged from excessive to pretentious in my opinion.

Trigger warnings for sexual assault and a big minus for how the minor antagonists were punished by becoming disabled thanks to karma, or something of the sort. Disability in itself should not be seen as something "bad people deserve". That left a bad taste in my mouth when I finished this novel, especially since it happened to both of the minor antagonists and that was that for them.

I'd rate this novel something between 3 and 4 stars out of 5. Due the aforementioned bad taste I think I'll go with 3, but I still mostly enjoyed this story and found it to be an entertaining read.

I received a free physical ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. The novel will be published in February 2020. If you're interested in seeing pictures of the large paperback I got, I've uploaded a few on my Instagram. I found the book to be of good quality, it didn't tear or fall apart like some paperbacks do after just one read-through.
Profile Image for Philip Shade.
173 reviews2 followers
April 3, 2020
Magic, faeries, monsters, religious liberty, philosophy, history, and bodice ripping passion, all in the same novel. The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment is siren of a book in which every development tempts sand pulls the reader further into the struggles, passions, and achievements of its protagonist Violane.

This historically set fiction is vividly inspired by a range of classic faerie tales, legends, and myths and historical persons. As with Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber author Therese Doucet honours these old stories but creates her own world for Violane that is fresh and dangerous, exciting and often erotic.

One fo the things that I really enjoy abut this book is Doucet's willingness to turn faerie tale traditions on their head. Beauty & the Beast can have a very Stockholm Syndrome feel to it, but throughout The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment Violane questions not just the her own feeling to her unseen benefactor, but his motives as well. She is never lead willing down a garden path to her own entrapment. In that and many other ways the story is as thoroughly contemporary as it is timeless and classic. (Violane also never forgets her children! I've read too many books where a single mother's children are just set pieces that disappear for98% of the book.)

All in all The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment is a story of struggle and mystery, both internal and external. I found myself hurrying from one page to the next, until the last few chapters where I paused for a few days because I wasn't ready for it to end.

Enter the castle if you dare. There are wonders to behold! Mysteries to be explored! Love to be found? No matter what you find, one thing is certain, you won't leave the same person who entered...
Profile Image for Kathy Stone.
342 reviews48 followers
December 12, 2022
I think that there was too much sex in this Beauty and the Beast retelling. The heroine is supposed to be come from a religious background and is essentially sold to the Marquis of the manor to what he likes with her. The issue is that he is married and does not love his wife. While this is the point of this story to watch the Marquis and Violaine fall in love in the dark, it is sad that destroying a marriage is the goal. This novel takes place in eighteenth century France, in a very Catholic country so divorce is not an option. There are other characters based on real people and that may be why I did not like this book. The Marquis de Sade and his libertine views do not sit will with me and even fictionalizing some of these ideas are uncomfortable to read. That being said this was on my TBR and the library did own this.
Profile Image for ♡ Rhianna ♡.
152 reviews176 followers
February 16, 2021

I have FALLEN in love with this book, OVER, and OVER again! I am just madly in love OMG. I can't even think right now, that's how in love I am. I'm going to have to revisit this review in the near future to touch up, and give an actual review. But for now, I am going to sit here and wait for my very own Marquis, to come and rescue me.

*Thank you Therese and her publisher for being ever so kind, as to send me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
275 reviews
June 23, 2021
I really enjoyed this book! On the surface, it's a lovely Gothic retelling of Beauty and the Beast with delicious bodice-ripping scenes, a mysterious and dangerous monster and a magical castle and garden. The story unfolds in 18th century France, and draws ideas from the Enlightenment.

What I enjoyed most about this story was the romance. The romantic plot unfolds primarily around Violaine and the mysterious Marquis who has requested the pleasure of her company in exchange for her family's financial security. Even under the dubious premise of being bought for pleasure, Violaine is a study in love, pleasure, consent, and duty. With the Marquis's friends, she expands into her identity more fully, learning to express herself not just as a lover, but as a thinker and as a friend. The author mentions a family history of Mormonism, which resonated with my own experience of being ex-Mormon and it seemed to thread through the subtext of the story. The ideas of marriage and duty were given some examination with Violaine's relationships.

I also enjoyed the integrity of the story to the Beauty and the Beast folklore, and was delighted by the appearance of the Erlkonnig. The subtle presence of magic was just enough to fulfill my desire to read a fairy tale, without taking the story so far out of the experience of relatability.

My one critique, for what it's worth, is that there were some explain-y bits that got in the way of the narrative rhythm. The author worked hard to develop the characters to fit her inspirations from 18th century thinkers, and for the most part the prose was lovely, but then I'd be jarred out of the story with a brief synopsis of some Enlightenment theme. Almost like a sock puppet of Voltaire. Oh, and I'm a little sensitive to the Evil Woman being described as fat and fleshy... that tends to be a trope and it's one I find hurtful.
Profile Image for Barbara.
558 reviews6 followers
March 22, 2020
Violaine is a young widow, who had been in a loveless marriage; is sold by her father to a wealthy Marquis in order to become his mistress. She has to leave her two young children behind and is taken to The Chateau de Boisaulne, quite a distance away from the home she grew up in. She is terrified and concerned that her father has sold her to a monster of a man; but doesn't meet him right away upon her arrival. She has the opportunity to explore the beautiful, magical and mystical Chateau and its lovely gardens while settling into her new life there. She is told in a letter that she doesn't have to meet The Marquis until she is ready to do so. As she is getting to know the Chateau, she is taken care of by invisible servants, who help her button up her dresses and style her hair. She is basically living all alone, with what seems like ghostly servants. Instruments play by themselves in the music room, and food appears on the dining room table for her to eat.

The Chateau is filled with secret passages and rooms. I found my imagination working overtime in order to keep up with the very detailed descriptions, and felt very engaged in this wondrous story.

Violaine soon learns about the seductive enlightenments at the Chateau, some of which were physical, mental, and intellectual. She soon meets the other people that are staying there and starts a very romantic relationship with The Marquis, whom she only gets together with in the darkness of night.

This is an adult fairytale, beautifully described and very mysterious, with a touch of fantasy. The story moved along at a fast pace and I found myself struggling at times to keep up with imagining how The Chateau looked and all the secret tunnels, gardens and surrounding woods and forest. I enjoyed this story immensely!

A very special thank you to Therese Doucet, for sending me a signed copy of this unforgettable story. I used to love fairytales when I was a child, and this made me realize how much I miss them.
Profile Image for Steven Peck.
Author 28 books210 followers
June 29, 2020
Doucet’s The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment is the best book of fiction I read this year. And I read a lot of fiction. I devoured it over a few days. On those evenings, I was carried away to a world so richly imagined that I felt like I knew the place.

Doucet’s setting in France is vibrant with exquisite details. The descriptions leave you with the feel and familiarity that these are people you know and care about—almost as if it’s a life you’ve lived at another time—The story is embedded in a tale set in a richly imagined world; a France you never knew, but you know it is somewhere and you want to go there. The novel gives a sense of place and time that seems both real and fantastic at the same time.

The characters are complex. They exhibit depth and attributes multidimensional and consistant. I especially liked Violaine. Her sense of adventure, curiosity, determination to make a better life despite what she confronts, portray a woman of conviction and strength. Vulnerable to the baggage of her poisoned past, yet unafraid to take the future into her own hands when her external circumstances seem to be taking all that control away. Her passion and lack of fear draw her to the reader.

Her depiction of the other characters is just as delightful. I don’t want to give spoilers but there is a cast of very original characters, some of which, if you are aware of with certain philosophical movements, are familiarly portrayed and playfully entertaining as minor characters. All of the characters, both nefarious, mundane, or cast as central figures, are sketched with care, detail, and full of presence and convincing portrayals.

The story itself is compelling, mysterious, sensual, non-formulaic even when drawing on tropes from classic fairytales. It is original, well-paced, beautifully written, mysterious, and wonderfully fantastic. A story imagined with insight and care, and without a doubt conveys a sense of being real, even in the presence of fantastic elements. I loved this book from beginning to end!
Profile Image for melanie.
370 reviews
April 7, 2020
Giving this 4 stars because this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling which manages to stay within a certain fairy tale vibe but feels fresh by having older characters who’ve lived a little bit before the story starts, in a well-established world. There are discussions of philosophy and sex (Most romance novels are more explicit if that’s not your bag) which was fun and also horny.

Some of the twists were a bit telegraphed given the usual conventions of like. The Romance Genre(tm). But this is also a fairy tale adaption. Y’all know what you’re getting into.

The plot drops off in the second half, mostly because it swerves hard into more realism wrt the villain/curse than straight up fairy tale which made it harder to buy the relationship than a full on Magic Curse, but still enjoyable and some choices I haven’t seen before in this specific genre. Kind of like Ever After but with more actual magic.

Overall, do recommend! I like when authors take a fairy tale and clearly establish it in a real era, especially if you know the history and can see where the author is winking at the reader with some of her characters based on historical figures.

Cw for an attempted assault by another male character on our heroine and spousal abuse (implied and on page)
Profile Image for Jena.
529 reviews90 followers
January 21, 2022
3.5 stars
The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment is a new twist on the classic "Beauty and the Beast retelling" with an interesting fantasy plot line. My main complaint was just that some elements of the plot were brought up like they'd be big issues, but then dropped. For example That being said, the romance in this book was really good (with the exception of that weird part in the middle) and I LOVED how the book concluded. The fantasy elements were really well written, especially towards the end. Lastly, this book packed a lot of plot into only 288 pages, which is really impressive. Overall, I don't know if I loved this book, but it's still a really unique story.
Thank you to the author for the copy!
Profile Image for Happy Booker.
1,153 reviews66 followers
April 6, 2020
The prisoner of the castle of enlightenment is an adult fantasy story that begins as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast but takes a very different turn as it is set in late 18th century France.

The author sets the story with excellent adventure and a good variation of favourable fairy tale content. She kept the historical facts relatable and built the society in a natural yet fictional way.

The literature was described very well. Violaine has a fascinating character. She is just as strong yet has her unique personality, which added to the enjoyment of the story. I particularly adored the part where the story didn’t stick to what the reader was expecting to happen. The tale changed and created more layers and possibilities. There was also room for many other segments of storylines created if the author wished to add sequels to this one.

I would recommend this book to young adult readers, people who like gothic fairy tale stories and folklore readers.
Profile Image for cassberrie.
389 reviews11 followers
January 8, 2021
Rating: 2.5

TW: graphic violence, some sexual assault

Violaine is a countryside widow in late 1700s France. When her father falls upon financial ruin, she must go to the home of a mysterious benefactor who only comes to her at night, never to reveal his face.

The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment is something of a Beauty and the Beast retelling with a little bit of East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Cupid & Psyche thrown in. It has the basic framework of Beauty and the Beast, but also contains a lot of story elements from ESWM with regard to how Violaine never sees the man who sleeps by her side at night and the relationship that . At one point it does make reference to the myth of Cupid and Psyche, but this isn't built upon that much.

The story begins promisingly enough with enough intrigue and fairytale magic to keep things interesting. I'll admit, however, that I was extremely bored throughout the whole second act. I wasn't surprised to find out that the author has a PhD, because a lot of the conversations ended up sounding like the Socratic seminars that I used to have in my French culture classes back in university. I can tell that she's very well-read in the literature and culture of this time period, but it was painful to go through at times. I also felt that there were too many characters that didn't need to be there. As much as I see the merits in allowing Violaine to have friends while she's staying at the chateau, everything seemed like an unwelcome distraction from the main plot. This monotony was broken up with a few kinky sex scenes (I was also not surprised to find out that one of the characters was inspired by the Marquis de Sade) but so much of it seemed pointless.

Then came the third act, which was when things got good. The magic of the chateau is further developed and the lore deepens. The villain of the story emerges and they are absolutely awful. They stand against everything that the main cast believes in, and I was happy to see their gruesome fate.

Interestingly enough, Violaine and Therion parallel each other quite a bit, both of them scarred by the weight of . Beyond the perils of marriage, the book touches on the abuse of power by those who can get away with it, which is only fitting for a pre-French Revolution tale.

Sadly, I was unable to get truly invested in the characters or the plot, even if I thought that the writing was magically atmospheric. I liked a lot of the concepts explored in this book, although I ultimately found it difficult to enjoy.
Profile Image for Lorran Garrison.
2 reviews1 follower
November 25, 2019
Ever wonder what Belle in Beauty and the Beast would be like in an adult-themed story? Not a cartoon, but a woman, with needs and desires?

The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment by Therese Doucet is the tale of Violaine twenty-seven, widowed, and mother of two near Vaud, Switzerland, in the Age of Enlightenment. She loses the bookshop that her and her late husband owned, sold by her father to a mysterious Marquis.

The Marquis finds a beloved book by Violaine, filled with poems written by her. Eventually the mysterious Marquis falls for her through her poetry and sends for her to stay with him in his tucked away manor in the forest. In return the Marquis helps with her family's debt and the education of her children.

Violaine is a feminist beyond her time and justifiably does not want to comply to the contract between the Marquis and her father. However, much like the tale of Beauty and the Beast, Violaine falls for her mysterious suitor who may actually be part man and part beast.

The novel breaks the mold when friends from an underground society who are skeptics of the Church stay for the summer. Grappling through the questions of Christian morality, sex, and ethics, the friends unravel the mysteries of the Marquis, the forest and the village legend of the Stag King.

Profile Image for Shaneen Thompson.
117 reviews6 followers
July 9, 2022
This historical fiction reimagining of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale crossed with the myth of Eros and Psyche was very interesting, but not entirely what I expected. I really enjoyed the beginning chapters and the setup of the story, but much of the time spent in the castle of enlightenment felt a bit like filler and didn't seem to contribute to the plot or character development. The romance between Violaine and the Marquis was expected, of course, but didn't feel well-developed.

I did enjoy the twists on the popular fairytale and myth, and all the references to the original content. The ending also gave an interesting twist to what was expected. I also enjoyed the nuggets of French historical references, and would have liked there to be even more.

I personally did not agree with the morals presented in the book (this does take place during the enlightenment, so don't be surprised by a "freedom in all things pertaining to pleasure" mindset), which made it a little difficult to get through.

If you are interested in twisted tales and myths, enjoy French history and the enlightenment period, or enjoy dark romance, you will likely enjoy this book.

Content: explicit sexual content
Profile Image for Rosa.
215 reviews195 followers
June 22, 2020
Review will be published on Independent Book Review shortly!
Profile Image for Staara.
58 reviews
November 4, 2021
So this was a did not finish...

Often when I come across a first person perspective-I always wonder how crap the book will be.
You have to suffer reading all the crap that goes through the characters mind-and most of the time, it's worthless junk that you don't care about.
Secondly, the characters are almost always guaranteed to be dull, boring, pathetic, ridiculous, foolish, think too much of themselves, arrogant, patronising and just plain morons that ruin the story!

Then you have the pretentious 'books, I've read many books, and so I must be so special, and therefore understand the deepest fundamentals of life and the soul' theme going on here, something you often have in certain kinds of books, which I always find boring, and it doesn't give Voltin/Voltrine/Voltraine a personality.

The main reason I didn't finish being the main character is just so dull and boring... and suffers from constant mental verbal diarrhea.
I didn't care about most of what she thought and found it tedious wading through the verbal diarrhea...
Everything is explained in such minute detail that is leaves nothing to the imagination.
We have way over the top:
"It was a cat, or a кошка in Russian, or in French le chat, or in Italian il gatto, or in German die katze, or in Croatian mačka"
Yes some of the above is probably not correct-but you get the message.
Or we have:
"In the room there were chairs, and a large table, a sofa, a chaise lounge, several display cabinets, a rug, a bookstand, a grandfather clock, thick curtains, a coffee table, shelves, chest of drawers, a side cabinet..."
Again you get the message-but the above is only 1/4 of the full description 😉

To me it seems as if the author is trying way too hard to write beautiful prose that flows smoothly, or trying to show off through Voltaine/Volaine (cannot remember the name and don't really care!)
their knowledge, but it comes across as really, really trying way too hard.

This Volaine/Voltaine/Voltong is such a dull character and I really disliked her, especially when she assumed that the Marquis was this kind of a person, or that kind of a person without even meeting him.
She's got nothing going for her, yeah sure she's done this or that but that means nothing when she's as dull as dishwater.

I've no idea what the Marquis sees in her, maybe he's taken several hits to the head and as a result his judgement is severely misguided (hey, I didn't finish the book and didn't care to find out)

The reason I tried to read on was to find out more about the Marquis and only about him, that Voltaine/Volaine/Voltere character seriously got in the way.

Anyway I'd have given it 2.5 out of 5-purely because of the Marquis
Profile Image for Steven Peck.
Author 28 books210 followers
June 29, 2020
Doucet’s The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment is the best book of fiction I read this year. And I read a lot of fiction. I devoured it over a few days. On those evenings, I was carried away to a world so richly imagined that I felt like I knew the place.

Doucet’s setting in France is vibrant with exquisite details. The descriptions leave you with the feel and familiarity that these are people you know and care about—almost as if it’s a life you’ve lived at another time—The story is embedded in a tale set in a richly imagined world; a France you never knew, but you know it is somewhere and you want to go there. The novel gives a sense of place and time that seems both real and fantastic at the same time.

The characters are complex. They exhibit depth and attributes multidimensional and consistant. I especially liked Violaine. Her sense of adventure, curiosity, determination to make a better life despite what she confronts, portray a woman of conviction and strength. Vulnerable to the baggage of her poisoned past, yet unafraid to take the future into her own hands when her external circumstances seem to be taking all that control away. Her passion and lack of fear draw her to the reader.

Her depiction of the other characters is just as delightful. I don’t want to give spoilers but there is a cast of very original characters, some of which, if you are aware of with certain philosophical movements, are familiarly portrayed and playfully entertaining as minor characters. All of the characters, both nefarious, mundane, or cast as central figures, are sketched with care, detail, and full of presence and convincing portrayals.

The story itself is compelling, mysterious, sensual, non-formulaic even when drawing on tropes from classic fairytales. It is original, well-paced, beautifully written, mysterious, and wonderfully fantastic. A story imagined with insight and care, and without a doubt conveys a sense of being real, even in the presence of fantastic elements. I loved this book from beginning to end!
Profile Image for Veronica (Honey Roselea Reads).
629 reviews121 followers
December 22, 2020
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~ 3.5 stars ~

I will be publishing a review on my blog on The Prisoner of the Castle of Enlightenment.

The review will officially be live at 11 am CST on Dec 22, 2020. For now, here is a preview as to what the review will look like:


Violaine, a widow and mother of two, lover of books, finds herself in a proposition. After she discovers that her father sold her to a marquise in Boisaulne, she must leave her son and daughter in order to move in with the marquise. This is where she meets the marquis du Herle, also known as Harlequin, who brings her to the Castle of Enlightenment.

Heartbroken and lonely, Violaine discovers the vast library that holds treasures she never expected. But, Violaine...
558 reviews35 followers
June 30, 2022
I was hoping for Beauty and the Beast, and instead got a mostly interesting French history inspired story about religious and intellectual persecution.

While Violaine was a fairly interesting character for the most part, the first third of the book was pretty boring. The set up of her being a widowed mother of two could have been further expanded, but instead she’s quickly taken away from them. From there, the lack of any substantial characters made it a slog to get through, especially given that it’s mainly her exploring a pretty castle.

Once other characters are brought to visit, things somewhat get better? Unfortunately they act more as mouth pieces of past famous writers and artists, rather than being interesting characters on their own. The middle third reads more like a weird cartoon summary of different arguments related to governments and politics.

Anyways, actual conflict is finally introduced in the last third. Which is unfortunate because it also really highlights how pathetic the lead character of Thérion really is. I wish Violaine had been a lot more angry with him, had pushed back against some of the stupid demands he made. And he should have been more courageous instead of, essentially a scared alcoholic. Honestly I would have rather she ended up with the Alder king.
108 reviews
May 19, 2020
First time reading Therese Doucet. I'll be honest-about half way in I thought this was going to be a re-make of Beauty and the Beast. I'm happy to admit I was wrong. I'll also admit there were times when I wanted to skip ahead to get to the good part. This is not because the author is just filling pages, it's because I know I'm being made to be patient. This drives me crazy, but it usually means the story is captivating. I won't ruin the ending.....but it's the kind I like. Give it a try. It's not a masterpiece....but it's still better than most!
Profile Image for Alana.
448 reviews13 followers
October 13, 2021
A mature B&B retelling? Sign me up! Therese Doubet writes a story that has you enticed and hooked and enamored the eeeentire way through. Violaine is a sympathetic character, and her relation to Belle from the original while not being too much like her makes this a retelling worth reading. I know this kind of romance is such a red flag IRL, but by GOD I love it in books! If you nod in agreement with any of this, I urge you: read this book. It's original, exciting, eerie, romantic, atmospheric, and memorable.
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