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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.
This book was on my “want to read” list, and I picked it up from my local library. As soon as I started reading, I was transported into France in the 1600’s–with all the sights, sounds, and smells of the period. Claudette was an easy heroine to like, and her desire to make her family’s life better will resonate with many readers.
One of the best things about THE SHADOW QUEEN is that the author Sandra Gulland didn’t bury the plot in a lot of politics. Rather, she spends her description on the trials and triumphs of stage actors, and later, the sumptuous trappings of Louis the XIV’s Court. Her characters come alive: Moliere, Corneille, and Athenais are alternately drawn to scale and then appear larger than life at times. Gulland keeps the story true to life, for the most part, as she takes historical fact and makes it sing. She brings the hopes and fears of Athenais to the forefront, and helps the reader to see who she was and who she turned into: a cunning and manipulative woman who fears the loss of her youth and vitality, and resorts to black magic to keep the affections of her beloved Sun King. It seemed hard to understand if that affection was true, or just opportunistic.
Claudette stayed true to herself throughout the book, continuing to care for her mother and brother even as her innocence is slowly pulled from her; and she made a stand against her beloved Athenais, which comes back to haunt her and threatens to ruin her life. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how it would end for Claudette.
I enjoyed this book a great deal, and intend to read other novels of Gulland’s. Her research is thorough and her writing is clean. Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link asin=”0345805607″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]here[/easyazon_link].