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 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 blood-stained fields of the Franco-Dutch war, 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. [provided by the author]
8 Beauty Tips from the 17th century
by Sandra Gulland, author of THE SHADOW QUEEN
1. To soften your skin, wash in your own urine.
2. Mercury will give your face a youthful sheen. Use scents to mask its noxious smell. Ignore reports that it makes your skin leathery, causes tooth decay and loss of memory.
3. To achieve a fashionably pale skin, use hog grease, bird droppings and urine.
4. To make your hair golden, use a mixture of urine, rhubarb, lye, saffron, cumin seed, celandine and oil.
5. Cosmetics make of white lead are excellent. Ignore reports that it can kill you.
6. For a truly white face, apply white chalk mixed with egg white. However, be careful not to smile, for it will crack and flake.
7. To give your eyes a wide-eyed sexy look, use drops of Belladonna. Ignore reports that it will make you go blind.
8. To give the impression of blushing modesty, apply mercuric sulfide (vermillion) to your cheeks. Ignore reports that it will cause your teeth to fall out.
Year of Publication: 2014
Genre: Historical fiction
Length: 336 pages
Review: THE SHADOW QUEEN is the latest novel by Sandra Gulland, author of THE JOSEPHINE B. TRILOGY.
The novel is set in the mid 17th century, focusing on the actress turned maid to the mistress of Louis XIV of France. The mistress, not the maid is the Shadow Queen. Honestly, I would call Athénaïs, the Shadow Queen, a minor character. The book is poorly named and described since it is really not at all about Athénaïs, but about Claudette since it is told from her perspective and more about the troubles she has to face. I am not clear why the novel was marketed this way. The description eludes to ‘dark magic’ and tons of political upheaval. But alas, no. Maybe back in the 1660s using some poison was considered black magic (ala Affair of the Poisons), but marketing it that way to today’s readers doesn’t really work.
I think the development of the characters could have been explored more. It felt as though Gulland just described the actions taking place as they happened, but not the inner thoughts. For example, at one point theater is very important to Claudette’s life. During the Wars of the Theaters period, it was all that was discussed. Suddenly, as she is speaking to Athénaïs about the struggles of theater folk and how the church dislikes them so much that they can’t be buried on hollowed ground, the Shadow Queen gets the great idea that Claude should recant acting. Without any explanation, or inner monologue, Claudette, basically says, ‘okay where do I sign?’ There also didn’t seem to be much difference between 14 year old Claudette and 25 year old (if my math is correct) Claud. Since no one is the same person they were at 14 when they are 25, this can be seen as a bit of an issue. It was also strange to me how Athénaïs went from enemies to best buds with no explanation. As a child Athénaïs is like, ‘I’m going to kill you because you so-called charm didn’t work’, but the next time they see each other Claud and her are the best of pals. Bit weird.
I gotta say, I love the historical accuracy. Claudette was a real person who was a maid to the Shadow Queen. She was caught up in the scandal of the Affair of the Poisons along with the Shadow Queen. She had a bastard son by Louis XIV. She was real. Also, as I read I recalled learning in high school about how actors were scorned by the church back in the day. It brought back up old feelings I had when I was in theater. I loved the descriptions of the old stages, plays and theater tech. It was a joy that Gulland’s writing brought me this happiness.
Despite being 336 pages, THE SHADOW QUEEN isn’t that bad of a read. The chapters are short and it is easy to speed through the novel in no time at all.
Worst part: Totally a tie between the character development & title/description marketing fail.
Best part: Historical accuracy is always a plus for me.
Recommend For: I thought this book was similar to BECOMING JOSEPHINE by Heather Webb, which I read in January. So I think if you like that you will enjoy this. P.S. Gulland also wrote novels about Josephine.
Other Books by This Author: Mistress of the Sun and The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.
We’re giving away one (1) HARDCOVER copy of THE SHADOW QUEEN. It’s US/CAN ONLY giveaway (sorry guys). Giveaway ends on May 9th.
SANDRA GULLAND is the author of the Josephine B. Trilogy, internationally best-selling novels about Josephine Bonaparte which have been published in over seventeen countries. Her forth novel, Mistress of the Sun, set in the 17th-century court of the Sun King, was also a bestseller and published internationally.
Her most recent novel is The Shadow Queen, also set in the era of the Sun King, published in April of 2014 by HarperCollins in Canada and Doubleday in the U.S.
See more on her website: http://www.sandragulland.com
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