Interview: Emma Theriault Talks Belle’s Story and the French Revolution in ‘The Queen’s Council: Rebel Rose’ [EXCLUSIVE]


New from Disney Books comes Rebel Rose, the first installment of The Queen’s Council series which will look at our favorite Disney princesses and their continuing stories in their respective historical settings. For Belle, this means leading the kingdom of Aveyon out of the shadows of the broken curse just as the French Revolution begins. It’s a fast-paced, story in which author Emma Theriault breathes new life into Belle’s story. We got the chance to chat with Emma about writing Rebel Rose and exploring the French Revolution through Belle’s eyes.

Nerds and Beyond: First, can you tell us a little bit about the Queen’s Council series and your involvement? how did you settled on Belle?

Emma Theriault: My agent sent me an email in October 2018 asking if I’d like to audition for this new Disney project, and I happily agreed. The pitch for the first book in the series was Belle’s book, with Mulan and Jasmine to follow, so I didn’t necessarily have a choice in the matter, but if my editor had asked me who I’d like to write, the answer would have been Belle. I’ve loved her almost all my life, and it was such a joy and a privilege to be chosen to tell more of her story.

Nerds and Beyond: Belle is near and dear to my heart and I’m sure to many Disney fans, what was the research process like for Rebel Rose?

Emma Theriault: The very first thing I did after getting the pitch was watch the animated film again. I’ve seen it countless times, but never in the headspace of “what would happen next?” so that was an interesting and illuminating exercise. Then I combed my shelves for books about the time period, the French Revolution, Enlightenment thinkers, etc. and compiled notes. Then I went on a very coincidental trip to France and Austria in the spring of 2019, so that provided some invaluable firsthand information. I got to stand on Pont Neuf like Belle does in the opening chapter of Rebel Rose and imagine what it would have been like for her to be in a city on the brink of immeasurable change, so soon after experiencing her own transformation.

Nerds and Beyond: The book is beautifully written and paints such vivid mental images, it’s easy to picture Belle as a real historical figure. Was nailing that historical accuracy important to you? (You definitely nailed it!)

Emma Theriault: Thank you so much! Yes, it was very important to me that the history in Rebel Rose was sound. I was a history major in university, so aside from this being a dream project because it was a continuation of Belle’s story, it was also a dream project because it allowed me to expand her story against real historical events.

Nerds and Beyond: Why did you decide to put Belle on the streets of Paris during one of Paris’ most significant historical moments versus a secondhand retelling or from inside Versailles?

Emma Theriault: I thought it would be interesting to have two perspectives: Lio sees the absurdity and excess of Versailles while Belle sees how the rest of France suffers. The revolution began in the streets of Paris, and I wanted Belle to witness firsthand the poverty and unrest that pushed a nation to reject their king. As much as I would have liked to explore characters like King Louis and Marie Antoinette, I didn’t want them to take center stage in what should be Belle’s book. I probably could have written a whole book about Belle attending court at Versailles, but I knew from the start that her journey would culminate in her finding her place and her purpose at home in Aveyon. I also knew the allure of King Louis’s court would be lost on Belle, who seeks instead the philosophical debates taking place in the cafés and bookshops of Paris. When she witnesses the beheading of the marquis de Launay, Belle knows exactly what is coming for the Ancien Régime.

Nerds and Beyond: We get to experience Belle’s home in all its splendor and see many familiar faces. Did you have a favorite Beauty and the Beast character to write?

Emma Theriault: I loved writing Cogsworth. Beneath his stodgy, duty-above-all manner, he’s a very warm and loyal character. I also loved having the opportunity to expand Belle’s relationship with Mrs. Potts, who serves as something of a motherly figure to her. She is who Belle goes to when she needs advice or a dose of reality. It was true when Belle was a prisoner in the castle and it’s still true now that she is married to its prince.

Nerds and Beyond: Likewise we also meet a lot of new characters that expands the story we already know. How did you decide what new characters and their rich backstories to weave into this tale?

Emma Theriault: I wanted Belle to develop a strong friendship with another woman who could perhaps serve as a window into a different sort of life, one that Belle admires and envies. Marguerite is independent in a way Belle hasn’t had a chance to be, but it is their similarities that bond them. They have both faced tragedies in their lives and they both wish to make the world a better place. As for Bastien, the duc de Vincennes, I wanted a character that represented the excesses of the Ancien Régime. He is Lio’s aristocratic cousin, deeply ingratiated with the court of Versailles. Belle and Lio need him, but it is difficult for Belle to put aside his arrogant and supercilious nature. She thinks she knows exactly what kind of man he is, but he manages to surprise her more than once over the course of the narrative.

Nerds and Beyond: While Beauty and the Beast is primarily a love story, Rebel Rose takes a step away from the romance concept and introduces real world issues like politics. Was that step away from a classic romance story intentional from the beginning? 

Emma Theriault: Belle and Lio were never going to break up, but a book needs conflict, so I did the next best thing by separating them for the bulk of the narrative. The tension in Rebel Rose doesn’t come from the idea that Belle and her husband could be torn apart—they defeated a curse with their love, after all. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t make mistakes or have doubts. The tension arises when they return home from the chaos of Paris, determined as they are to make sure the violence of the revolution doesn’t reach their kingdom, but with different ideas on how to do so. Belle thinks the answer lies with Aveyon’s commoners, but Lio is persuaded to go on a tour to placate his nobles first. Normally, Belle would fight tooth and nail for him to see her perspective, but she sees how Lio is haunted by his years spent as the Beast, and she has reason to believe the curse they broke isn’t as defeated as they’d believed. But telling that to Lio seems impossible, so she decides to bear the burden on her own and fix things herself.

Nerds and Beyond: Belle is very stubborn when it comes to a title in Rebel Rose and she undergoes some real character growth by the end of the book. Why do you think she pushes so hard against it?

Emma Theriault: To me, Belle is a character with very solid convictions. She knows her mind and she knows her heart and she cannot easily push either aside. So when I sat down to write the continuation of her story, I knew she would feel immensely conflicted about ‘ruling’ a kingdom she had spent her life desperate to leave. It’s a mixture of feeling unworthy of the title and fearing it. So to me, her journey would take her from the rejection of the title, to her eventually embracing it.

Nerds and Beyond: We also see magic woven into the story as well which is exciting and has so many implications for Belle’s journey. Did you know early on that you wanted to keep some of the magic in Belle’s story?

Emma Theriault: The pitch for the series ties all of the books together with a magical force called the Queen’s Council that serves to aid our rulers in their time of need. One of my very first ideas was to connect that mysterious force with the Enchantress from the original film, giving her a deeper reason for originally cursing the young prince. Belle and Lio broke the curse by falling in love, but perhaps that was only the first step in the Enchantress’s plan…

Nerds and Beyond: What do you hope readers will ultimately take away from Rebel Rose

Emma Theriault: It’s a book about Belle finding the strength to become who she is meant to be, even in the face of her own fears and the doubts of others. ‘Happily ever after’ is something Belle has to fight for, both for herself and for her kingdom, and I hope readers will never stop fighting for their own happy endings.

Thank you to Emma for chatting with us! Rebel Rose is available in stores and online today!

Brianna works full time in the publishing industry, passionately building books to bring to the masses. Her first fandom was Harry Potter, which she joined at age 11. Her love for books took her abroad to earn her Masters Degree at University College London, after which she lived in New York City, and now resides in Austin. She loves all things fandom including Supernatural, Doctor Who, and more. Ever the introvert, she can usually be found reading, playing with her dog, listening to music and practicing yoga. Brianna joined the Nerds and Beyond staff in 2018 where she unites her love for all things "nerd" with her passion for writing. Find her on Twitter here: @bookbag09

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