cover image Phalaina


Alice Brière-Haquet, trans. from the French by Emma Ramadan. Levine Querido, $18.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-64614-182-1

At once beautiful and sinister, Brière-Haquet’s speculative historical novel combines Darwinist philosophy with the labyrinthine narrative of a hunted child in Victorian-era London. Cocooned by hundreds of butterflies after escaping the carriage wreck that killed her guardian, naturalist Professor Humphrey, young Manon emerges from the woods only to endure seven unpleasant years at an orphanage. The girl sticks out among her peers: she doesn’t speak; is afraid of fire; and has “large, red, tender eyes,” marble-white skin, and spectacularly fine hair. Escape lands her at the home of kindhearted poet Molly, who must soon fend off a tenacious homicide detective. Led by the late professor’s former secretary, two henchmen ruthlessly seek Manon in the name of nefarious science, an arc involving the startlingly violent aftermath of both torture and murder. Interspersed with Humphrey’s letters to fellow Beagle voyager Charles Darwin, elegantly rendered third-person chapters alternate among myriad peripheral perspectives, including of a pinned butterfly and a wise dog. Characterization dips into anti-fat bias, and the frequently changing lens sometimes slows the tale’s momentum, but luminous sentences offers a singular mixture of tense mystery and sharp rebuke of cruelty toward the natural world. Characters cue as white. Ages 10–up. (Sept.)