Book review: The Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy #2) by Sally Christie

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  • Publication date:  April 5, 2016
  • Publisher:  Atria Books
  • 448 pages
  • Genre:  Historical fiction

Description:

And you thought sisters were a thing to fear! In this compelling 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 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 mapped out 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 bourgeoise 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 14-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.

Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe: history books say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour. Alongside Catherine the Great of Russia and Maria Theresa of Austria, she is considered one of the three most powerful women of the 18th century, and one of the most influential royal mistresses of all time.

In The Rivals of Versailles, Christie gets to the heart of Pompadour’s legendary relationship with Louis XV, France’s most “well-beloved” king. Pompadour was not only his mistress, but his confidante and influential political adviser for close to twenty years. Full of historical insight, decadence, wit and scandal, The Rivals of Versailles is about one woman’s trials and triumphs, her love for a king, and her role in shaping a nation.

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unnamed-5Meet the author:

I’m a life-long history buff – and I mean life-long. One of the first adult books I read was Antonia Fraser’s masterful Mary, Queen of Scots. Wow! That book just blew my little ten year old mind: something about the way it brought the past right back to life, made it live again on the page. I date my obsession with history to that time, but I’d been writing (“writing”) ever since I was able to hold a pencil.

If you’d told my 12-year old self that I’d not be a writer when I grew up, I would have laughed you out of the tree house. With a few detours along the way, to work overseas in consulting and development, as well as to go to business school, I’ve finally come full circle to where I think I should be.

I currently live in Toronto and when I’m not writing, I’m playing lots of tennis; doing random historical research (old census records are my favorite); playing Scrabble, and squirrel-watching (the room where I write has French doors leading out to a deck; I avidly follow, and feed, a scruffy gang).

For more information please visit Sally Christie’s website. You can also find her on Goodreads and Pinterest.

REVIEW:

This second book of the Mistresses of Versailles series picks up where book one left off, with the death of the youngest of the Nestle sisters.  All of the royal court is agog with anticipation as to who would fill the role of the next royal mistress.

I looked forward with interest to see how the author would portray Madame de Pompadour in this second book in the Mistresses of Versailles series.  I love French history and have studied the portraits of Madame de Pompadour. Formerly known as Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, this beautiful young, bourgeoise girl is cleverly maneuvered to catch the eye of Louis XV.  As she rises in Louis’ affections, and attains status and power, she cultivates friendships with learned men and writers (such as Voltaire) and reads voraciously.  Voltaire wrote that “She had read more at her age than any old woman in the country where she is going to reign and where it is proper to wish that she reign”.

Her love of and encouragement of the arts were one of her greatest achievements.  She instituted the Manufacture de Vincennes which was the precursor to the Manufacture de Sevres.

Madame de Pompadour’s achievements were alluded to in Sally Christie’s book however, what went on behind closed doors was the dominant theme of the novel.  Louis XV was a man of excess and Pompadour always needed to be one step ahead of him, both politically and privately to ensure her position at Versailles.  Theirs was apparently a love match, as Louis felt he could be himself with Pompadour.  His respect for her keen intelligence placed on her shoulders much of demands and decision making for the government and it was generally accepted the Pompadour was the real ruler at the time

The court intrigues, factions and enemies of the royal favourite would continue until Pompadour (or the Marquise’s) death in 1764.

The novel is heavy with dialogue and characters, however, I never felt that I was confused.  At 428 pages it is a very long novel, however the suspense and plot twists kept my attention to the end.  

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