I read Sally Christie's first novel in this series, The Sisters of Versailles, and it gave me a ring-side seat into life at Versailles under King Louis XV. This second book though, The Rivals of Versailles, plunged me straight into the intrigue of the King's most famous mistress, Madame Pompadour.
I really enjoyed this book and had trouble setting it aside for mundane things like work and cooking dinner for my family.
Maybe it helps that I didn't know the book was about Madame Pompadour. At the beginning, she was just Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a middle-class girl at a fair when a fortune-teller predicted that she would some day be the mistress of the king. After that, her entire childhood was spent preparing her for that role.
Like any good historical fiction, the details are exquisite and the reader is swept into the halls of Versailles where women jockey for the king's favor and men use the women like pawns on a chess board to gain the ear of the king.
Jeanne must even resist the king's advances to make sure she can enter Versailles as his mistress rather than just another girl in the string of lovers pleasing the king. And the entire court is appalled that a non-royal woman becomes so powerful.
I won't give away the rest of the story, which some of you might know if you've studied history, but I guarantee that you haven't seen it from this light before.
Here's a snippet of their first encounter:
I wait. And wait. Clouds threaten and an insistent breeze heralds a coming storm. It must not rain. It must not. Please, God. My nerves are frayed as the wind whips the ribbons on my hat. Please, no rain.I enjoyed this novel even more than the first and will give it five stars on Amazon and Goodreads.
Then the sound of hooves to mimic the pounding of my heart. Binet canters out of the forest, followed by another man. That it is the king I have no doubt: his face is at once both wonderful and familiar.
"Sire, might I introduce you? The Comtesse d'Etoilles."
"Madame d'Etiolles," says the king, bringing his horse up alongside my chaise. "So, Binet, this is the doe you thought had come this way." His voice is low and husky, the tone amused. "Delightful."
"Indeed, Sire, this is the lady that is enchanting Paris, as well as these forests."
"And I can see why. A singular beauty," murmurs the king, looking at me with intense dark eyes. I am staring at him with an openmouthed gape. The face I gazed upon constantly...he is even more handsome than his portrait."