Author: Kate Braithwaite
Genre: Historical Fiction (France)
Publisher: Fireship Press
First Published: September 15, 2016
First Line: "Paris 1676 - The naked woman lie on her back on a thin mattress supported by two sturdy wooden chairs."
Book Description from GoodReads: 1676. In a hovel in the centre of Paris, the fortune-teller La Voisin holds a black mass, summoning the devil to help an unnamed client keep the love of Louis XIV.
Three years later, Athenais, Madame de Montespan, the King's glamorous mistress, is nearly forty. She has borne Louis seven children but now seethes with rage as he falls for eighteen-year old Angelique de Fontanges.
At the same time, police chief La Reynie and his young assistant Bezons have uncovered a network of fortune-tellers and prisoners operating in the city. Athenais does not know it, but she is about to be named as a favoured client of the infamous La Voisin.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
My Review: With vivid descriptions of the glamour and opulence of 17th century France, author Kate Braithwaite has written an impressive novel that brings her readers into King Louis XIV's court. It is a place filled with deception, carrying favour, scandal and intrigue. When new revelations come to light concerning the use of Dark magic, panic ensues within the court as certain people are threatened to be prosecuted for witchcraft.
Police attempt to figure out who is dabbling in the Dark Arts and will not stop at mere interrogations but have resorted to torture and even public executions in order to remove any suspicion or threat of sorcery from the king's court. When they focus their investigation on Catherine Montvoisin, a woman known for providing Dark solutions, it has a rippling effect among not only the nobility but those further down the social food chain.
This is a time of greed, corruption and climbing the social ladder where being in or out of favour with the King of France brings different kinds of danger. There is mystery, intrigue, sinister plots and a rather large group of characters. The story lines are reasonably intricate without being too fussy or overly verbose but seem to have a rather narrow scope.
At the heart of the book there are two different story lines. One follows Philippe Bezons, the young assistant to the chief of police who is eager to prosecute Montvoisin but not if it puts the woman he loves at risk. The other story line follows Athenais, the aging mistress of the King, who is suspected of using Dark magic to maintain the King's attention. It is her story that I found most compelling and to whom I was most sympathetic.
I will admit that it took me a little bit to get into the story but once it got rolling I was quite engaged. The one criticism I had was that there were so many characters, many of whom are secondary, within the two story lines that it was sometimes difficult to remember the specific traits, history etc of different characters and to keep track of who was who.
Readers will be impressed with the writing in this novel. Braithwaite's writing is so descriptive that you can clearly imagine the beautiful gardens and ornate surroundings of the grand palaces as well as the truly decrepit and fetid conditions of the Chateau de Vincennes, the overpopulated prison where some rather graphic torture takes place.
There is a lot going on in this book but Braithwaite has woven an intriguing story. It is clear that she has done a lot of research on this era. Since I typically don't read much historical fiction centred in France I was pleased to learn that many of the characters in her book were based on real historical figures with a touch of fiction to bring it all together. Might as well learn a little while enjoying a suspenseful read, right?
This is a book that focuses on what people will do in order to achieve their deepest, and sometimes, darkest desires. It's a book about maintaining power at any cost as well as the impact of fear and jealousy. Fans of Jane Johnson (Pillars of Light) and Sally Christie (The Sisters of Versailles) should enjoy this book.
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to author Kate Braithwaite for providing me with a complimentary copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.