From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.
Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother's astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she's socially scorned.
A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning "Shadow Queen." Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.
Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king's bed.
Indeed, Claudette's "reputable" new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King's favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.
Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France.
The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The title is somewhat deceptive. The story is told from the viewpoint of a player on the sidelines, the daughter of an actress and an old stage-hand herself, Claudette des Oeillets, as she watches the royal show play out between King Louis XIV and his mistress, 'The Shadow Queen' Athénaïs de Montespan.
We catch only glimpses of the court, less than promised by the title and blurb. Instead, we get a surprising, albeit interesting, view of 17th-century theater's struggle between satisfying audiences and balancing the demands of the Catholic Church.
The story is easy to sink into, the tale reads quickly and smoothly. I expected the book to be more lurid, given the tales that circulate about the French court, but Claudette brushes off sex, ignoring it unless it's thrust upon her. She was happy to ignore carnal relations as much as she could and I was quite happy to see her do so. Too many 'historical novels' degenerate into bodice-rippers but this one keeps sex to a minimum despite all the doors that could have opened to the subject. The sex that is featured serves to move the story along and is told as quickly and easily as the rest of the story.
I received a free copy of this book from GoodReads First Reads in exchange for review. I allocated four days to finish this book, reading a quarter of the book per day, but I finished it in three. I've since learned that this is a companion book for Mistress of the Sun, a novel about King Louis XIV and his first mistress, Louise de la Vallière - it's been added to my to-read list.
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