Book review and giveaway: The Shadow Queen – I love France #93

I LOVE FRANCE!

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You can share here about any book

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The Shadow Queen

Shadow Queen cover

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post
as a reviewer,
and the thoughts are my own.
The Shadow Queen
By
Sandra GullandPublisher:
Release date: April 8, 2014
at Doubleday (US)
and HarperCollins (Canada)ISBN: 978-0385537520
Pages:  336Genre:
Historical fiction

Source: Received
from the author for a
virtual book tour on France Book Tours

Goodreads

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

      books-on-france-142014 historical fiction New author challenge

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

new eiffel 5

This is the first book I’ve read by Sandra Gulland, and I’m hooked! Indeed, what is not  to love in this portrait of 17th century France?

First, I thought the perspective chosen by the author worked extremely well: to speak about the court and the affairs going on around king Louis XIV and his famous mistress Athénaïs de Montespan, she chose as her narrator someone who starts as basically a nobody.
Claudette has a very poor childhood, wandering through France with the small remnant of their family’s acting troupe. They even sleep in caves. Her world clashes significantly with the one of a little girl she meets. Claudette is fascinated though. After many adventures, she will end up the seamstress and eventually the maid of that girl, who turns out to be Athénaïs. Claudette finds herself swept in a different world, with values not her own. At one dangerous point, she will have to choose which set of values to follow, to the risk of her own life and the life of those she loves. What will she do?

But Claudette is actually someone history remembered. She was Claude de Vin des Œillets, known as Mademoiselle des Œillets (Provence 1637 – Paris, May 1687), daughter of actors Nicolas de Vin and Alix/Louise Faviot.
Even Louise de Maison-Blanche (1676-1718)  (you will have to read the book to know who this important person is) is still known today.

The world of the stage allows the author to expand a lot on the topic. The 17th century was extremely rich in that respect in France, with the famous playwrights Corneille, Racine, and Molière. I enjoyed very much seeing the conflictual relationships developed between these authors and their companies, on the background of the relationship with the Church, especially the fanatic Company of the Blessed Sacrament, an extremist secret society which was then very active in censoring theater.

On the other side, you have an inkling into Black Magic with Athénaïs crazy ceremonies when the King started looking towards younger ladies; and the infamous Catherine Monvoisin, or Montvoisin, known as “La Voisin” (c. 1640 – February 22, 1680:burned at the stake for witchcraft), a French fortune teller, poisoner and an alleged sorceress, one of the chief personages in the affaire des poisons, also present in the novel.

You also see the appalling poverty and misery of the 99% at the time. France was quite dirty and smelly at the time, including at the court of Versailles. The descriptions in the book give  a very good idea about what it must have been to live in those times and conditions. The collapse of Pont Marie in Paris is an amazing passage on that theme in the novel (chapter 12).

Besides, France was far from being united linguistically: many local patois were used, making it difficult for the inhabitants of a city to be understood by the inhabitants of the next city or village.

I enjoyed very much the characters. They are described with real depth, you can really feel you know their personality and their struggles, from the all attentive Claude, to her disabled brother, to the terrible insufferable character of Athénaïs. The King looked sometimes like a puppet under her influence.

It was interesting to see how these people were presented in this novel and in The Hurlyburly’s Husband, by Jean Teulé, recently published and reviewed. Two very different perspectives, one French, one American, on the same court and the Montespans.

Some readers have criticized the title of the book, saying it focuses too much on Claudette, whereas the title refers to Athénaïs. I disagree with this view, and believe the title can actually apply to both women. I’m basing my argument on this passage by Claudette herself:

Sometimes I felt like a queen of shadow realms, forever peering out onto glittering worlds –whether watching my mother performing from the dark wings, or Athénaïs from this darkened room.” p.99

In her own way, each of the two women is a shadow queen. This line allows also to think along the metaphor of court as a stage, so un-real compared to the regular life of all others.

VERDICT: This magnificent well-researched portrait of 17th century France, from the very poor, to the world of theater, to life at court, is a welcomed change in historical fiction. The world can be a stage, and your choice of characters will have consequences on how you find happiness.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

 

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.

1660, Paris

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]

WATCH THE TRAILER

PRAISE FOR THE SHADOW QUEEN

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Sandra GullandSandra 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: www.sandragulland.com

Sign-up for her author newsletter: http://www.sandragulland.com/contacts/

Follow her on Facebook  | Twitter  |  Pinterest  | Goodreads

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
ANY OTHER GOOD BOOK ON THE SUN KING
YOU ENJOYED?

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Book review: The Hurlyburly’s Husband. I love France #92

I LOVE FRANCE!
I plan to publish this meme every Thursday more or less!.
You can share here about any book
or anything cultural you just discovered related to France, Paris, etc.
Please spread the news on Twitter, Facebook, etc !
Feel free to grab my button,
and link your own post through Mister Linky,
at the bottom of this post.

*******

The Hurlyburly’s Husband

The Hurlyburly's Husband

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post
as a reviewer,
and the thoughts are my own.
The Hurlyburly’s Husband
By
Jean Teulé
Translated by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Gallic Books
US Pub. Date: April 15, 2014
Originally published in French in 2008
ISBN978-1906040659

PagesPB, 340
Genre:
Historical fiction

Source: Received
from the publisher

Goodreads

Award:
Grand Prix du roman historique (2008)

Buy the book

= also available as ebook

 


This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

   books-on-france-14 2014 historical fiction New author challenge

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

new eiffel 5

As you know if you follow this blog, my reviews focus more and more on French literature or at least on topics related to France. With that in mind, I approached Gallic Books, who offer “The best of French in English” as their motto says. And they graciously already mailed me two historical novels, my favorite genre. Thanks Gallic Books, I really appreciate!

It was also really neat to read this book almost at the same time as The Shadow Queen, as both books have as main characters Athénaïs de Montespan and Louis XIV, but from two very different perspectives!

Françoise Athénaïs married Louis Henri, marquis of Montespan. A few years later, Athénaïs became lady-in-waiting at the court of Versailles. There, she attracted King Louis XIV’s attention, and ended up actually his most famous mistress. History has usually ridiculed le Montespan has the most famous cuckold of all times, as he dared oppose the king.

In The Hurlyburly’s Husband however, Jean Teulé develops the whole story into a real tragicomedy, highlighting first the ardent love between Athénaïs and Louis-Henri. They never have enough of each other. The only shadow to their love is money, or the lack there of, as they live way above their means and waste it away very quickly.
Hoping to get some victory and great reward, Louis-Henri goes to war, but it ends up being a great disaster. Chapter 6 presents a typical French graphic scene, with some black humor characteristic of Jean Teulé.

Their blackened chests now exposed, the marquis’s soldiers, once held close by fair demoiselles, fell together on the sand in a hideous parody of the act of love.
p.54

So to remedy to their financial situation, she accepts to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. When she tries to tell her husband the danger she may soon fall in, he doesn’t get it.  When he finally discovers her wife got pregnant by the King’s doing, he starts publicly criticizing the Sun King.
Everyone around him tries to tell him how lucky he is, to have his wife so pleasing to the king, that he can take advantage of the situation, as so many husbands before him did, and finally become really rich.
But Louis-Henri wants to prove to that society that real love does exist, and he does all kinds of crazy things to protest and remain true to their love.
To the end of his life, he remains faithful to his love, and tries by all means to have his revenge against the king, as the stubborn Gascon he is -in France, they do have a reputation to be very stubborn!

He has but one failing: a stubborn love.
p.192

I really enjoyed a lot the originality of the novel, as comedy and tragedy are intertwined to present the story from an unusual facet.
As a reader, I wanted at the same time to laugh at Louis-Henri and cry with him.
The style is often totally hilarious, under the guise of seriousness. It can thus be super romantic or awfully gruesome. And the ending of the book is completely macabre.

There are scenes of utter derision, for instance at the theater in chapter 18, describing the sickly dauphin of Spain (Future Charles II) in chapter 39, or when Louis-Henri witnesses what the King does with his mistresses, through a spyglass (chapter 43).

There’s even a funny passage of self-humor I believe on page 225. The author describes the Seigneur de Teulé as “that wretched nobleman -a ruffian and a counterfeiter”. But note that the author himself is called Teulé!

All the main historical elements are present, including the controversial and maybe legendary one of Athénaïs taking part in black masses to try to keep the love of the King, and the famous Poison Affair, maybe orchestrated by her with the help of the infamous “La Voisin“, fortune teller, poisoner, and alleged sorceress.

The 17th century is supposedly the dirtiest period in French history, and you can really smell the stench between the lines! The hygiene of the time was  horrendous, and Teulé conveys this quite well.

The English title of the novel comes from the name of one of Athénaïs’s hairdo, called à la hurluberlu.
There’s a fascinating interview with the author at the end of the book, as well as reading group questions.

VERDICT: I highly recommend this unique historical fiction. Hilariously funny, gruesome, macabre, and graphic, it is a worthy witness to great French modern literature revisiting famous and infamous royal history.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

A man, his wife – and the King that came between them. The Marquis de Montespan and his new wife, Athénaïs, are that very rare thing: a true love-match. But love is not enough to maintain their hedonistic lifestyle, and the couple soon face huge debts. Then Madame de Montespan is offered the chance to turn their fortunes round, by becoming lady-in-waiting to the Queen at Versailles. Too late, Montespan discovers that his ravishing wife has caught the eye of King Louis XIV. Everyone congratulates him on his new status of cuckold by royal appointment, but the Marquis is broken-hearted. He vows to wreak revenge on the King and win back his adored Marquise. At once comic and poignant, Jean Teulé’s extraordinary novel restores a ridiculed figure from history to his rightful position of hero: a man who loved his wife and dared challenge the absolute power of the Sun King himself. [provided by the publisher]

PRAISE FOR
THE HURLYBURLY’S HUSBAND

‘A bawdy romp one minute, a gruesome tragedy the next. The writing is beautiful, witty, grisly and moving, and reeks of authenticity.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘Fascinating…I rooted wildly for the brave Marquis’ Wendy Holden, Daily Mail

‘This brilliantly boisterous, charmingly Gallic tragicomedy is a riveting tale of love, sex and power which gives new dignity to one of history’s most ridiculed figures and helps restore him to deserved heroic status.’ Lancashire Evening Post

‘Dazzling’ Le Point

‘Tremendous fun’ Liz Loves Books

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean TeuléJean Teulé lives in the Marais with his partner, the French film actress Miou-Miou.
An illustrator, filmmaker and television presenter,
he is also the prize-winning author of ten books including one based on the life of Verlaine.
He has also written biographies of Rimbaud and François Villon.
Gallic Books has published three of Teulé’s novels:
the black comedy The Suicide Shop
and two novels based around true historical events: the terrifying  Eat Him If You Like and bawdy tragi-comedy The Hurlyburly’s Husband.
Read an interview with Jean Teulé.
View all books by Jean Teulé or discover more Gallic authors

***

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE NOVEL
SET IN  THE COURT OF LOUIS XIV?

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS  IN A COMMENT PLEASE

Just a reminder guys:
If you link your own post on France,
please if possible
include the title of the book or topic in your link:
name of your blog (name of the book title or topic):
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Thanks!

Review #54: Before Versailles

Before Versailles:

A Novel of Louis XIV

by

Karleen KOEN

460 pages

Publication:  June 28, 2011 – Crown

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

You may have noticed that lately, I’ve been getting reconciled with my Frenchness and have been reading more books related to France. This historical novel was very enjoyable, though for some reasons, it took me a while to read without having to go back and forth to the list of characters given at the beginning of the book. There are not that many characters though, and the relationships are rather easy.

I enjoyed the portrait of the hero, Louis XIV the Sun King, given here as during the first years of his reign. The focus is on the beginning of his asserting power, his support of the arts, and his sentimental life – that’s only the beginning, you can read on wikipedia (only on the French version – how funny, the English version does not have the lists!) the record number of his KNOWN mistresses and illegitimate children – impressive…

The characters sounded true to life, the topic was well researched, the descriptions beautiful – I have to add the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte if ever I go back to France one day!

Louise de la Vallière was presented in a very positive light, probably true to life, though it is sometimes difficult to imagine that there were indeed in court people genuinely not interested in honor and money.

There was a good flow to the book. It started a bit slowly, but with suspense and quality getting better and better. There was an interesteing twist with the man in the iron mask.

I would say Koen is much much better than Philippa Gregory, but not as good as Michelle Moran – her Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution being so far the best Historical novel on France I have ever read, but wait, I’m soon going to discover Catherine Delors, as I won a free copy of For the King!

The author gave me the desire to read more about Louis XIV when I was done, so this is always a good point. Sounds like she may even write a novel on another mistress of the king’s mistresses: Madame de Montespan. I’m ready !

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

New York Times bestselling author Karleen Koen offers another delightful historical novel that will transport you to another time and place.

Before Versailles is the luscious, sweeping story of the young Louis XIV in his first year as king of France. Told in the alternating perspectives of the young king and his first love, the woman who would become his mistress, Karleen Koen’s newest weaves a portrait of court and country in turmoil with the legends of this colorful period in history, including that of the mysterious man in the iron mask. [Goodreads]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This is her self-presentation on Goodreads:

“My childhood was filled with glorious books, Little Women, Lad A Dog, Black Beauty, Little House on the Prairie, Caddie Woodlawn. They were as real to me as the life around me, a lower middle class one in a small oil refinery town in Texas. My grandfather, an invalid, was a huge fan of the writers Frank Slaughter, Frank Yerby, and Zane Grey. By the time I learned to read, I was sneaking his square, cheap (a dime, I think) paperbacks off and reading them. Pirates. Passion. History. It has never occurred to me to write anything but historicals, a kind of time travel into other minds, other lands, other eras, other cultures, other worlds. That’s what I wish for my readers, that my books take them far away into another place and time and that they enjoy themselves there and maybe even learn an interesting fact or two. ”
My blog: http://www.karleenkoen.wordpress.com
My website: http://www.karleenkoen.net

REVIEWS BY OTHERS

“In this magnificently written and researched novel, Karleen Koen brings to vibrant life the early years and loves of the future Sun King.”–Jean M. Auel author of The Clan of the Cave Bear & The Land of Painted Caves

Before Versailles presents a grand yet intimate glimpse into the lifestyles of the rich and royal at the court of the young, virile King Louis XIV.  Words to describe the cast of characters cannot do them justice:  moral yet decadent; powerful yet endangered; larger than life yet completely human.  But there is an apt word to describe Karleen Koen’s latest novel:  Brilliant!”–Karen Harper, author of The Irish Princess

Before Versailles captivated me from start to finish! With exquisite finesse, Karleen Koen weaves history and myth into a sumptuous portrait of young Louis XIV, his intrigue-laden court, and the passionate, ambitious, often dangerous women who loved him.”–C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici [amazon]

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
DO YOU FEEL LIKE READING THIS BOOK?
HAVE YOU READ ANY OTHER GOOD HISTORICAL NOVEL ON LOUIS XIV?
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS  IN A COMMENT PLEASE