Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

The Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles, Book #2)
by Sally Christie
Release Date: April 5th 2016
2016 Atria Books
Ebook Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-1501102998
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

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.

My Thoughts
The Rivals of Versailles is the second book in The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy, and I found it to be just as compelling as The Sisters of Versailles, the first book in the series.  In this one, we are treated to the relationship between Jeanne Poisson (Madame de Pompadour) and King Louis XV.  The Marquise's story is especially riveting because she was able to develop her friendship with Louis, and keep his attentions even when their sexual relationship cooled off, becoming one of the most influential women in Europe during this time period.  

After being told by a fortune-teller that she would one day win the love of a king, Jeanne is carefully nurtured and educated with only one end in sight - to win the love of a great man and produce the benefits for the entire family.  Thanks to her mother's connections, Jeanne soon finds herself embroiled in a plot to win over the king; even her husband was a means to an end as only a married woman can go to court.  I actually found the whole planning method to be quite exhausting and it's no wonder many women fainted at court; it's definitely not the clothes they were wearing, but the shear exhaustion of the planning and manipulations that went on in order to get above everyone else.  Even when Jeanne finally did achieve the pinnacle of her ambition, and fell madly in love with the king, before she could be presented at court, due to her humble beginnings, she had to spend hours and hours learning court etiquette, everything from bowing to someone to how to eat properly to how to walk properly.  I did find a lot of the rules mentioned quite fascinating, and although I knew some of them, there were others with which I was unfamiliar so they were fun to learn.  

The Marquise eventually became one of the most cultured woman at Versailles.  In order to survive that many years as a mistress however, one also has to be quite politically savvy and the marquise was brilliant in her moves.  She became a trusted and valued advisor to the king, even helping to negotiate treaties and other deals, to the detriment of the men on the council who did not trust her because she was a woman.  She also became a huge patron of the arts, nurturing all kinds of artists and architects, being responsible for the planning of the Petit Trianon as well as the Place de la Concorde.  Despite all of this, her position was never stable, and I found her machinations and plotting to keep her position through Henry's other flings quite interesting.

This is where the narrative changes a bit and we get a taste of three important rivals in a long line of flings.  Rosalie, a minor countess, captures the king's attention with her youth and her beauty.  Morphise, a young but worldly girl, captures the king as she can match his insatiable sexual appetite; quite cunning, her wisdom and sarcasm interest the king as he doesn't quite know what to think about this girl-woman.  And then there is Marie-Anne, whose resemblance to her namesake captures the king's attention; I really like how the author made this woman seem so silly as it was quite funny.  I seriously doubt she was quite like this in reality, something the author also touches upon in her notes, but it was fun nonetheless.  All three were guided by mentors in the court who you would think would have learned their lesson by now; the Marquise was untouchable which is why none of these girls lasted as mistresses as all three attempted to have Jeanne removed from Versailles.  But how everything worked out was quite interesting and I enjoyed the political machinations quite well.  It especially showed that one couldn't trust anyone in that court.  I seriously don't know how anyone could live like that for years and not suffer serious illnesses from the stress of it all.  

The Rivals of Versailles really demonstrated the jealousies and rivalries that occurred in the court of Versailles during this time period. Better yet, there was an underlying theme of discontent and bitterness as the King dealt with people who no longer loved him and tried to kill him, with the nobility slowly grasping the idea that they were quite hated.  Lots of conflict, even if small, occurred in this novel, which definitely set the tone for what is to come.  While not a political novel, it definitely shows the excess waste and wanton disregard for people who were starving and needed attention from their king and courtiers. I did really wish however, that the author had truly shown how tough and strong the Marquess was as well as some of  the other really important things that she did as I felt those were glossed over in favour of her relationship with the king and her neediness for him.  In order to survive in this nest of vipers, she would have had to have been much stronger than that.