Published: April 5, 2016Publisher: Atria BooksPages: 448Received: from Simon & Schuster Canada for honest reviewAnd you thought sisters were a thing to fear. In this captivating follow-up to Sally Christie’s clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.
The year is 1745 and King Louis XV’s bed is once again empty. Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a beautiful girl from the middle classes. As a child, a fortune teller had told young Jeanne’s destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King’s arms.
All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeois interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals—including a lustful lady-in-waiting, a precocious fourteen-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters—she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.
Told in Christie's celebrated witty and modern style, The Rivals of Versailles will delight and entrance fans as it brings to life the court of Louis XV in all its pride, pestilence, and glory.
You would think that after all of the scandal and heartbreak with the Nesle sisters, that Louis would put an end to having mistresses, but I suppose he just can't help himself. He seems to be a bit of an addict! After having lost his beloved, Marie Anne, the King needs a distraction and his men set out to find the perfect mistress to keep his attention. As a child, Jeanne Poisson, had her fortune read and was told she would be the lover of a king and from that time on she had been raised and educated with that in mind. When the time came, it was arranged that she would meet the king by chance and the rest is history.
Jeanne becomes his official mistress, is moved into the palace and is named the Marquise de Pompadour. She not only wars his bed, but becomes his biggest confidant and best friend. She holds the strings to this marionette of a man. Her influence is greater than any other and this allows her to have whatever she so desires.
As time goes on, she no longer warms his bed and others begin to fear her less and less. Louis takes on other lovers and the chapters in the book start to alternate from their point of view. The Marquise even starts arranging women for him to sleep with, hoping he won't take a specific mistress at all. Sadly, she is wrong and begins to feel jealous and worried she will be thrust out of her comfortable life. Over time, it is is shown that Louis needs her always, but merely as a friend or mothering figure. Not really what she planned for her life. The new and younger mistresses become her rivals and she fights with all she has to keep a place in his heart and the palace. The younger women are pushed aside when time and again they push to have the Marquise banned from court (at the insistence of their benefactors).
At first, I didn't really like the Marquise because she seemed too conniving and manipulative, but then I realized she just wants love and respect from the king. Her whole life she was molded to become his mistress because of the silly fortune told to her when she was a girl. How sad that must be to try to fit into a role you may not have truly wanted. I'm sure as a girl, she daydreamed about being loved by a king, but did she really want to be just a lover?
Louis seems to be a man-child. Not really making decisions for himself, brooding when things don't go his way and playing games with peoples lives as if it were nothing. He's childish and I can see how the Marquise could end up in a mothering sort of role as he always turns to her in his time of need and she plays the role as necessary. I think the reason Jeanne is always on edge is because of this childish moodiness - he is hard to read at times and so full of melancholy. Louis seems to go through girls like water, so I'm curious what he will be like in The Enemies of Versailles.
The thing that really makes these stories come alive is the description of the lives of these women. Sally Christie really shows how the lives are varied between the poor, the middle class and the court. The men and women of court want for nothing, while the very poor are in awe of small tokens like a piece of jewellery or fancy shoes. The mistresses vary: one is so poor that she holds every gift from the king as precious, while others a greedy little girls who want more and more. The one mistress lives in squalor before being housed in a house just for the king's visits. She feels like a princess in just an ordinary house, can you imagine if she were at court?
I'm looking forward to the next instalment in this series to learn more about the king's daughters who I am assuming are the enemies based on what I've gleaned in The Rivals of Versailles.
About the Author:
Sally Christie was born in England of British parents but grew up mostly in Canada. As a child she moved around with her family and then continued her wandering as she pursued a career in international development; she’s lived in 14 different countries and worked in many more. She’s now settled in Toronto and loving it.
Sally lives and breathes history; ever since she read Antonia Fraser’s masterful Mary, Queen of Scots when she was 10, she’s been an avid history junkie. She wishes more attention and technical innovation was devoted to time travel, because there is nothing she would rather do than travel back in time! Writing historical fiction is a poor substitute, but it’s the best one we have at the moment.
When not reading and writing history, she’s a tennis and Scrabble fanatic.