ABOUT THE BOOK:
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 gradually 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 War of Theaters, 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.
Once in awhile I read a book that completely cements my love of reading and reaffirms why I love books so much. THE SHADOW QUEEN by Sandra Gulland is such a book. Completely captivating from start to finish, the story of Claudette, attendant of Athénaïs de Montespan, was as intriguing as the mistress of the King herself.
The book is a companion piece to MISTRESS OF THE SUN (which I also adored), which focused on another of the Sun King’s mistresses, Louise de Valliere. And, although this book is about Athénaïs, it’s more about Claudette who has a (sometimes) unhealthy attachment to her mistress. She’s an interesting character and little is known about her real life. But, Sandra Gulland brings her to life and gives her much depth while immersing her in the intrigue of the theatre and the French Court.
Thoroughly detailed with plenty of historical goodness, the plot isn’t lost in heaps of facts that sometimes accompany books of this genre. Vivid descriptions of the theatre, along with characters who were a pleasure to learn about, THE SHADOW QUEEN is easily the best book I’ve read this year.