The Rivals of Versaillesby Sally Christie (Website, Facebook)
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy
Published by Atria Books on April 5, 2016
Genres: Adult, Adultery, Historical, Historical Drama, Historical Romance
Source: TLC Book Tours
Amazon • Book Depository • Goodreads
I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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.
I write this before her blood is even cold. She is dead, suddenly, from a high fever. The King is inconsolable, but the way is now clear.
The way is now clear.
The year is 1745. Marie-Anne, the youngest of the infamous Nesle sisters and King Louis XV's most beloved mistress, is gone, making room for the next Royal Favorite.
Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a stunningly beautiful girl from the middle classes. Fifteen years prior, a fortune teller had mapped out young 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 bourgeois 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 fourteen-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 may say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour, but one thing is clear: for almost twenty years, she ruled France and the King's heart.
Told in Christie's witty and modern style, this second book in the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the world of eighteenth century Versailles in all its pride, pestilence and glory.
I really liked and enjoyed Sally Christie’s fictional telling of France’s King Louis XV’s first mistresses, the Nesle sisters Louise, then Pauline followed by Marie-Anne, then briefly Diane, in The Sisters of Versailles (my review here). The intrigues of French court and how easily this King could be manipulated and lead by women to do their bidding was such an intriguing story–full of heartbreak, back stabbing, passion, and ultimately betrayal. The second book in the Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy picks up where the first one left off, with Marie Anne recently dead and the King’s advisors looking for someone to warm his bed again.
This time the narrator is Jeanne Poisson, who is eventually known as Marquise de Pompadour. She has humble middle-class, bourgeois beginnings, and when she’s a little girl, a fortune telling predicts that she will be the great love of a king, growing to hold great power. Once she’s a little older and with a bit of scheming, luck, perfect timing with the death of the King’s current mistress, and most importantly, help from her mother’s lover–who is a rich but lower courtier, the time comes for Jeanne Poisson to slowly make her move toward Versailles, and the King’s bed, heart, and right hand.
The Rivals of Versailles follows the Marquise as she grows from a rough-around-the-edges, beautiful, middle-class young woman that King Louis XV quickly becomes infatuated with. But she and her family realize that she needs a more extensive education, so her mother’s lover finances one for her so she can fit in with the courtesans at Versailles. Once she’s moved in to the palace as the King’s official mistress, the Marquise quickly learns that their are enemies and rivals everywhere–and no one will forget or forgive her commoner roots. As she rises to power alongside the king even though she no longer warms his bed, she finds that she has new rivals in the form of younger, eager mistresses that dare to try and oust her from Louis’ side and confidence. And this leads to getting three more points of view in the book from the three other mistresses that pose a threat to the Marquise. Rosalie, Morphise, and Marie-Anne de Mailly de Coislin tell their side of the brief time they spent as the King’s mistresses after the beginning/middle of the Marquise’s story, then followed by the ending of the now Duchess de Pompadour ‘s story and life.
I really enjoyed the Marquise’s rise to power and her personal growth and maturity throughout the book. She started out ambitious and uncultured, but she worked for a spot next to the king, and once she got there, she really worked to do some good things for her country. Her story wasn’t an easy one to read at times and it was full of tragedy, but she ultimately persevered by knowing what the King needed most. She lasted for over 20 years by the King’s side by being both a mother and a trusted friend after she ceased being a lover, and she was a great political negotiator.
All of the characters were so real and lively. Rosalie was my least favorite mistress. She was boastful, overly lustful, and very arrogant. The prostitute Marie-Louise (Morphise) was a bit of a sad, little girl, but she was also very hardened and eventually easily led astray. Marie-Anne de Mailly de Coislin was such a dumwit that I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the situations that she got herself into. All of the mistresses eventually were pressed by other people that the Marquise needed to go, and it didn’t end well for any of those mistresses.
Sally Christie really highlighted the disparity between the poor and those at court in this second installment. You really saw how happy someone poor like the king’s prostitute mistress, Morphise, was to have a nice pair of shoes or even a dress, while the courtesans wore things worth a years salary. Just how hard the poor had it in life was more apparent every time they ventured outside of Versailles, and the King was starting to hear that not everyone was happy with how he was handling France’s money and his lavish spending habits.
I give The Rivals of Versailles a 4.5 out of 5. The same vivid descriptions and great writing that I experienced in the first book was here again, but it didn’t feel stale. This just didn’t read as non-fiction historical so it isn’t dry. There was plenty of backstabbing, rumors, and intrigue, as well as romance and subterfuge from all of the characters. But this book had many more layers of the political and economic hard times that were brewing and to come for France, and it was nice to see these things interwoven throughout the narrative. I highly recommend this series and I cannot wait for the third and final book, The Enemies of Versailles!
About Sally Christie
Sally Christie was born in England of British parents but grew up mostly in Canada. As a child she moved around with her family and then continued her wandering as she pursued a career in international development; she’s lived in 14 different countries and worked in many more. She’s now settled in Toronto and loving it.
Sally lives and breathes history; ever since she read Antonia Fraser’s masterful Mary, Queen of Scots when she was 10, she’s been an avid history junkie. She wishes more attention and technical innovation was devoted to time travel, because there is nothing she would rather do than travel back in time! Writing historical fiction is a poor substitute, but it’s the best one we have at the moment.
When not reading and writing history, she’s a tennis and Scrabble fanatic.
Sally Christie’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS for THE RIVALS OF VERSAILLES:
Monday, April 4th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, April 5th: Let Them Read Books
Friday, April 8th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Monday, April 11th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, April 12th: Books Without Any Pictures
Wednesday, April 13th: Scandalous Women
Thursday, April 14th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, April 14th: BookNAround
Thursday, April 14th: Worth Getting In Bed For
Friday, April 15th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, April 15th: Bewitched Bookworms
Monday, April 18th: A Literary Vacation
Monday, April 18th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, April 19th: Historical-Fiction.com
Wednesday, April 20th: Raven Haired Girl
Thursday, April 21st: The Maiden’s Court
Friday, April 22nd: A Bookish Affair
Monday, April 25th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, April 26th: Ace and Hoser Blog
Wednesday, April 27th: Dreams, Etc.
Wednesday, April 27th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, April 28th: Mom in Love with Fiction
Friday, April 29th: Books & Tea
Monday, May 2nd: Time 2 Read