The Shadow Queen

The Shadow Queen

3.8 14
by Sandra Gulland

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From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.


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From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Shadow Queen is an epic feast for the senses with a cast of characters that includes Moliere, Racine, and the Sun King himself, Louis XIV.  With this exhilarating exploration of the years of Louis's reign, full of exquisite details and memorable characters, Sandra Gulland proves herself a master of not only storytelling but stagecraft and illusion, as well." 
—Melanie Benjamin, New York Times Bestselling author of THE AVIATOR'S WIFE
"Fascinating and rich in historical detail, The Shadow Queen brings Claudette des Oeillets to full and vivid life as she makes the journey from hungry, roaming player to indispensable attendant of Louis XIV's mistress.  A captivating glimpse into the theatre, court life and black arts of 17th Century Paris."
—Cathy Marie Buchanan, New York Times Bestselling author of THE PAINTED GIRLS
"Sandra Gulland's latest will remind readers why they fall in love with the past. Gulland uses her meticulous research with consummate skill, rendering vivid the luxury and squalor of Louis XIV's France and breathing life into fully formed characters that tug at the heart. Masterful."
—Tasha Alexander, New York Times Bestselling Author of DEATH IN THE FLOATING CITY
"Propelled by Sandra Gulland's brilliant storytelling and her unerring gift for reviving an historical era through dramatic scenes,  The Shadow Queen is told through a fascinating perspective — that of the personal attendant and closest confidante of Louis XIV's all-powerful mistress.  The story straddles two worlds — the competitive arena of 17th century French theater and the opulent yet treacherous court of the Sun King.  The characters are magnetic and the pace will dazzle you."
—Adrienne McDonnell, author of THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA
"A must-read for anyone passionate about the theater and hungry for more of Sandra Gulland's masterful depictions of life at the court of the Sun King."
— Anne Easter Smith, author of A ROSE FOR THE CROWN
"A quick-paced, captivating tale of 17th Century France—from the dramas and destitutions of life in the theatre, to the intrigues and ruthlessness of the royal court—and of the wrenching conflict between familial bonds and the sacrifices a young woman must make to survive and thrive. Through the trials and hard-earned triumphs of quick-witted Claudette, maid and confidante of aristocratic, alluring Athénaïs,  Gulland shapes a world rich in historical detail and timeless in its exploration of divided loyalties, power struggles, and the consequences of remaining true to heartfelt ideals."
- Ania Szado, author of STUDIO OF SAINT-EX
"Sandra Gulland is one of our most gifted historical novelists and once again, she does not disappoint. This vividly drawn tale of a young woman caught up in the dark intrigues of the beautiful, lethal mistress of the Sun King has all the ingredients readers love, blending passion, adventure, pageantry and danger into a heady brew as intoxicating as it is unforgettable."
—C.W. Gortner, author of THE QUEEN'S VOW
"Sandra Gulland is at the top of her game in The Shadow Queen and that's saying a lot! From the first page you know you are in the hands of a master story teller. I just don't think anyone does it better than Gulland - this book is lyrical, fascinating and seeped in history, drama and emotion. Truly magnificent and an absolute joy to read."
—M.J. Rose, International Bestselling author of THE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.14(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.65(d)

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Excerpted from the hardcover edition

Chapter 1

Winter was coming—I could smell it. Even so, we headed north, following a cow track across a barren field, away from all the lawless soldiers.

Onward. I shifted little Gaston onto my right hip and set my eyes on the far horizon . . . Onward toward Poitiers, where we might earn a meal performing for crowds. News had spread that the King and Court were there, mobilizing for yet another battle.

We had seen the aftermath the day before, corpses rotting in the sun, pickers crawling over the leavings like flies on a harvest table. A sparkling brass buckle, a dagger with a carved hilt, a hat plume, three bone buttons—treasures that could be traded for food.

“We are players, not scavengers,” my father said gravely, turning me away. “There are things we do not do, things we will not do.”

His reproach stung even now.

I pulled the patched woolens up over Gaston’s head to protect him from the cold. He hummed in sleepy protest, sucking on his thumb. Father was right, I knew—we were players, and proud of our calling. We might be hungry, but we would never beg.

I glanced back to see Bravo pulling our cart of costumes and props, our kettle and precious embers. The donkey never stopped, but he never increased his pace either, even when wild dogs threatened.

My parents lagged far behind, hands linked, singing their favorite song, “Le Beau Robert.”

My belly cramped, but not from hunger. Was my time upon me?

My courses had started some moons before. Father and Mother had been jubilant. I must make a formal vow! they theatrically declared, as knights had done in days of old.

I’m a girl, I objected. The ceremonial swearing to uphold the code of chivalry marked a boy’s transition into manhood.

My parents—loving any excuse to perform—insisted that it was a perfectly suitable rite to mark their daughter becoming a woman.

So Father and I had acted out the ritual before our audience (Mother, with Gaston in her arms)—first the silent prayer, and then the sermon. It had all been pretend, but we were players: we took pretend to heart. I wore a red robe of nobility over a white tunic, symbolizing purity. My hose and shoes were black, symbolizing death.

“Swear not to traffic with traitors or give evil counsel!” Father recited the Code in his booming player’s voice. “Swear to observe all fasts.”

“I so swear,” I vowed. We were often without food. I was well accustomed to want. Ours was a life of fasts.

“Swear never to betray a trust.”

“I swear.” Thinking of Gaston, so credulous and sweet.

“Swear to do what is right, whatever the cost.” This last Father said gently.

“I so swear,” I answered, my hand over my heart.

He tapped my shoulders with our stage-prop sword, dubbing me the Good Knight Claudette, binding me to my vows. A burden, and a blessing.

The clouds cleared as we came to a valley. The sun lit up a meadow dotted with frosted marigold. I lowered Gaston to the ground, my arms aching. He was small for five, but even so, carrying him was heavy work. Giggling, he teetered on his feet. I caught him before he fell.

“Careful, Turnip,” I said, pressing my face into his neck, inhaling his sweet scent, so curiously like fresh bread (making my stomach rumble). Mother and Father fanned out, foraging for dried berries and grasshoppers, which we ate greedily after removing the heads, legs, and wings. I kept Gaston near. It was a relief that he’d finally learned to hold his water and hinder-fallings, but he was still a baby at heart. I worried that he was so clumsy, spotted with bruises, worried that he’d yet to talk the way other children did—children who teased him cruelly, calling him an idiot, a simple, a fool.

Yet Gaston was far from simple. I’d never won a game of Mill against him! On our wanders, he always seemed to know the right direction to go (when the rest of us were lost), and although he couldn’t talk, he knew when we misspoke a line during a performance. He was a puzzle I couldn’t solve. Mother feared a witch had put a spell on him. Father suspected that the worms we suffered now and again had gotten into his head. But I thought otherwise. I worried that it was something I might have done to him myself, looked away when I should have been watching.

We forded a river at a crude plank bridge, coaxing Bravo over with a bit of parsnip. In the shallows, we drank and splashed our faces. Mother caught minnows and we gobbled them down live. She chewed one for Gaston, making it soft, luring him to eat.

The land was made of chalk and limestone, forgiving and malleable. “There will be caves in these parts,” Father said, kicking his toe into the dirt. It was time to think of shelter for the night. In a cave, we would not be so exposed—to wind, wolves, men.

A narrow path led up to a ridge, which was surmounted by an enormous cross. Its surface gleamed in the fading light.

“Compliments of the Company, no doubt,” my father said, frowning.

The Company of the Blessed Sacrament.

The Company of the Devil, he’d once dared to call it. The secret society did good works by day, but attacked Jews, Romas, and players by night—all demons in their view, enemies of the One True Faith. Even some priests were of their number, preaching the stoning of players on festival days.

We were goodly Christians, so why did the Church scorn us? Why could we not take Communion or be buried in hallowed ground? Why were we excommunicated, forbidden the comfort of Heaven?

I lifted Gaston into my arms and began the climb up the mountain. He hummed, one long high note, fixing his moon eyes on me, unblinking. His voice was plaintive and high, enchanting to hear. I hummed along with him, the notes vibrating through my head and chest, twining with his. My sweetling—my very own treasure.

The sun was about to set when we found the opening to a cave. Remnants of a wolf carcass, charred logs, and a sharpened stick were evidence that the site had been home to humans before. An overhang offered protection from inclement weather.

The slope was wreathed in frost-withered vines, clematis, and primulas. On the far side of the valley, atop a rocky height, I could see the city of Poitiers. Church steeples rose above a cloud of smoke.

“Perfect,” Father said, regarding the vista. At the edge of a steep incline, we wouldn’t be taken by surprise.

The floor of the cave was wide and dry, the walls smooth. Holding a rush candle, I saw crude images of large animals painted onto the stone.

Gaston made echoes in the cavern as I hauled in the basket of bedding. “Come help, Turnip,” I sang, for he understood words best when put to tune. He ran to me, stumbling. “Doucement, mon petit!”

Outside, Mother set the tiny wood statue of the Virgin in a rock nook and arranged her tokens around it: a bouquet of dried carnations, a corn-husk doll, a chipped teacup, a rusty key. “How delicious is pleasure after torment,” she recited in a deep and melodic voice, quoting a line by the great playwright Corneille.

The familiar words rang out across the valley. We might suffer from want, but at least we had poetry.

Chapter 2

The next morning, Father and I set out back down the mountain, picking our way around boulders and rugged outcrops. “Tracks,” Father noted as we passed a pond ringed by trees and bushes. Deer tracks: we would be back.

Our intention was to go into the city and approach the Court, offering to perform lofty passages from the Great Corneille as well as some light entertainment. The young King—no older than I—would likely be bored and desirous of amusement. If we succeeded, we would be rewarded well.

As we got closer to Poitiers, we saw caves much like our own, many of them occupied. Some had gardens and plank doors, but most were hovels. Bone-thin children held out their hands. I delighted them with a flip; at least I had that to give.

Soon the path widened and we were joined by others—peasants going to market, three youths on a mule. We followed a road edging a river until a bridge came into view. Six heads were set on pikes at the top of a tower.

Father hung a tin cross conspicuously around his neck. “I’ve only five deniers,” he told me—not much in the way of a bribe. We pushed through the mewling beggars to join the long line of people waiting to get into the city.

“Where are you from and what business do you have here?” a pudgy guard asked when we finally got to the gates.

At least that’s what I thought he said. Every town and village spoke a different patois.

“French, Monsieur?” Father suggested as the guards took our satchel for inspection.

Another guard, this one with a thick black moustache, made a so-so gesture. “This Christian town is,” he informed us in broken French, regarding us suspiciously. “No beggar, no Jew, no Roma.”

Father explained that we had come to the fine town of Poitiers to visit his old aunt, who was breathing her last. He made a sad face and pressed the cross to his heart, miming grief. His best shirt of embroidered cambric showed under his jerkin.

The moustached guard shrugged at his partner, who had opened our satchel. He held up my slapstick with a puzzled expression. My heart jumped, fearing he would take us for players.

“To amuse my cousins,” I explained. The wood slats, held together at one end, made a splendidly loud noise, perfect for comic skits. I demonstrated the motion with a snap of my hand.

The guard copied my gesture and jumped at the clack the sticks made. He laughed and gave it to the other guard to try. Clack! Clack! Clack!

The plump guard wanted to do it again himself. Clack! Clack! He laughed like a child with a new toy.

I was relieved when he put the sticks back in the satchel and waved us through.

We headed up the hill, through the narrow, congested streets and into the heart of the ancient city. I paused at a stable yard. “Should I change?”

Father nodded. “I think we’re close.”

I slipped behind a wall, taking care where I stepped. My breeches were baggy around my hips—I stuffed my skirts into them and slipped on the short jacket, pulling up my stockings and tightening the twine on my big boots. Last, I applied a cream of chalk powder mixed with egg white to my face, then patted on just a bit of (precious!) flour. I secured the wig under my chin with a frayed ribbon.

I did a duck walk back out to the cobbled street and saluted my father. He grinned, every part of his face smiling, his brows lifting like the outstretched wings of a bird. Mother told me I looked just like him. I had his thick auburn hair.

“Don’t move,” he said. There were three men standing in front of a tavern across from the stable yard. They watched as Father shaped my smile with some of the red clay we’d found near Roussillon. Then I did a flip for them.

“Chapeau! Formidable!” they cheered.

A line of hooded men in black appeared in procession, carrying crosses and chanting like droning bees in a hive. The Company? Big, ragged holes had been cut in the cloth for their eyes. One man turned to stare, his eyes rolling ghoulishly. I lowered my head and signed myself, praying in fear as they passed.

The Palais de JUSTICE opened onto a crowded square with a scaffold at its center. I clambered after my father, heart racing.

The vast guardroom was like a church: dark, cold, and echoing. Thick tree trunks were burning in four enormous fireplaces at one end, yet they gave off little heat. A long plank table was heaped with the remains of a feast. A wave of longing came over me as I gazed at the leavings: a fish stew, something that smelled like partridge and cabbage potage, a platter of beignets (Mother’s favorite).

Two spaniels and a greyhound snapped and growled under the table. The greyhound’s snout appeared, and a beignet was gone.

Hunger made warriors strong, Father said. Swallowing, I stepped back.

After inquiries, Father was directed to a city magistrate who in turn told him to speak to Monsieur le Duc de Mortemart, charged with arranging entertainments for the royal family. We went through a small courtyard where a number of soldiers were smoking pipes and passing an earthenware crock between them. I stayed close behind Father, following him through an arch into yet another courtyard, and then another. On the far side, four guards leaned beside a double door.

“I wish to see Monsieur le Duc de Mortemart,” Father announced in his aristocratic voice—the voice he adopted for playing the parts of kings.

Yawning, a young guard with a hint of a beard opened one door. I made an exaggerated clown bow, but he didn’t smile.

Flushing, I climbed two steps at a time, joining Father in a dark antechamber off the landing. We waited beneath a tall window of Venetian glass; covered with soot, it let in little light.

One Ave Maria, two, three . . . On the fourth, a footman appeared and ushered us into an elaborately furnished room with a high ceiling and a great hanging candelabra. Candles had been lit despite the hour. A coat of arms was painted on a china vase: a shield with a menacing blue snake curled in the lower quadrant.

A man in velvet and old lace looked up at us from a desk covered in papers and scrolls: the Duke. The coat of arms must be his, I surmised. His shaved head was covered with a skullcap; a wig hung over the back of a chair. I wondered if he was a knight.

The footman gestured: step forward.

Father put down our satchel, bowing and greeting the mighty Monsieur le Duc de Mortemart formally, in Latin.

“Spare me,” the Duke groaned in French. His lips were stained red and his cheeks rouged. From the cracks in his face powder, I suspected he’d been napping. He had the manner of a man under water.

Father explained in his most melodic French that we were players, members of an acclaimed acting troupe. The tragedies of the Great Corneille were our specialty, but we also excelled in comedy, skits perfectly suited to engage the interest of the thirteen-year-old King.

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The Shadow Queen: A Novel 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kristen_Noel More than 1 year ago
   I found The Shadow Queen an appealing and entertaining change from what I expected. Historical fiction is either really amazing or really dull for me. This book fell into the former category. The author is liberal with her descriptions and it makes reading the book a very immersing experience.    The only downsides for were easily overlooked. The title is a bit misleading to those expecting it to be about the Shadow Queen instead of her helper. And there were parts of the story that seemed oddly out of place. But all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Shadow Queen and would definitely recommend it to historical fiction fans!  **I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review with no compensation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read all of the Napoleon and Josephine series. The author brings to life these stories -- you can see and feel the story with her writing. I am still reading this book, and it will not disappoint. I read recently that the Josephine series is being made into a mini-series. Sandra Gulland is well-deserved. I look forward to her next book, whatever it may be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There was very little momentum in the book. I just felt as though the plot was not interesting enough.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
poorly written
Griperang72 More than 1 year ago
This was a good book to me. The author does a good job with the characters and the use of history. I think she really did her research when writing this book. I did not know anything about this character in history so I was happy to read and learn some more about her. It was neat to read about the early days of theater. Another fun thing about this book was the tangled webs and conflict between the different classes that were told throughout the story. I recommend this book to history lovers.
alyslinn More than 1 year ago
I've read the Josephine trilogy, and loved it, so I jumped at the chance to read The Shadow Queen, and I wasn't the least bit disappointed. This was one I read in a day. I couldn't put it down, and I didn't notice the hours going by. I was completely immersed in the story. I can't speak to the accuracy of the history, having not studied this time period, but what I do know is that Ms. Gulland's writing pulled me right in, and I felt like I was there, in the theatre, in the bedchamber…everywhere. Claudette is a compelling character, and her ethics and idealism clash with the corruption and intrigue of the French court. Of course, there's no way that Claudette could remain unsullied by her first brushes, and then immersion, into the intrigue, and it's her struggle, her naivete and its loss, that kept me wanting more. I'd love to read more books set in this time period, and I can only hope that Ms. Gulland has others on the way!
Angie_Lisle More than 1 year ago
The title is somewhat deceptive. The story is told from the viewpoint of a player on the sidelines, the daughter of an actress and an old stage-hand herself, Claudette des Oeillets, as she watches the royal show play out between King Louis XIV and his mistress, 'The Shadow Queen' Athénaïs de Montespan. We catch only glimpses of the court, less than promised by the title and blurb. Instead, we get a surprising, albeit interesting, view of 17th-century theater's struggle between satisfying audiences and balancing the demands of the Catholic Church. The story is easy to sink into, the tale reads quickly and smoothly. I expected the book to be more lurid, given the tales that circulate about the French court, but Claudette brushes off sex, ignoring it unless it's thrust upon her. She was happy to ignore carnal relations as much as she could and I was quite happy to see her do so. Too many 'historical novels' degenerate into bodice-rippers but this one keeps sex to a minimum despite all the doors that could have opened to the subject. The sex that is featured serves to move the story along and is told as quickly and easily as the rest of the story. I received a free copy of this book from GoodReads First Reads in exchange for review. I allocated four days to finish this book, reading a quarter of the book per day, but I finished it in three. I've since learned that this is a companion book for Mistress of the Sun, a novel about King Louis XIV and his first mistress, Louise de la Vallière - it's been added to my to-read list.
booknerdDS More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I love historical fiction and take it at face value. I personally really loved learning about Claudette. Claudette is a young and very humble girl. She is part of her family’s group of performers. Her love and devotion to her family was very evident. I loved her care for her little brother and his “special needs”. Also her loyalty to her father was interesting. Through some twists of fate she becomes “a confidante” to Athenais. Athenais was Louis XIV of France’s mistress. The story is divided between Claudette’s early life as a performer and then at court. My only issue with the story was the focus. I thought that although we were seeing the story through Claudette’s eyes Athenais was a more interesting character and I thought that she “shadowed” Claudette’s story. I also enjoyed this aspect! Even though it’s a contradiction. The differences in their character seemed to play out their very different personalities. I also enjoyed how Gullanda introduced the themes of religion and government very subtlety but still made it an important part of the book and really played homage to the history of the time. I do recommend this book and found Claudette to be a memorable character. Life at court is never boring and neither was this book!
wordsandpeace More than 1 year ago
Magnificent well-researched portrait of 17th century France. First, I thought the perspective chosen by the author worked extremely well: to speak about the court and the affairs going on around king Louis XIV and his famous mistress Athénaïs de Montespan, she chose as her narrator someone who starts as basically a nobody. Claudette has a very poor childhood, wandering through France with the small remnant of their family’s acting troupe. They even sleep in caves. Her world clashes significantly with the one of a little girl she meets. Claudette is fascinated though. After many adventures, she will end up the seamstress and eventually the maid of that girl, who turns out to be Athénaïs. Claudette finds herself swept in a different world, with values not her own. At one dangerous point, she will have to choose which set of values to follow, to the risk of her own life and the life of those she loves. What will she do? But Claudette is actually someone history remembered. She was Claude de Vin des Œillets, known as Mademoiselle des Œillets (Provence 1637 – Paris, May 1687), daughter of actors Nicolas de Vin and Alix/Louise Faviot. The world of the stage allows the author to expand a lot on the topic. The 17th century was extremely rich in that respect in France, with the famous playwrights Corneille, Racine, and Molière. I enjoyed very much seeing the conflictual relationships developed between these authors and their companies, on the background of the relationship with the Church, especially the fanatic Company of the Blessed Sacrament, an extremist secret society which was then very active in censoring theater. On the other side, you have an inkling into Black Magic with Athénaïs crazy ceremonies when the King started looking towards younger ladies; and the infamous Catherine Monvoisin, or Montvoisin, known as “La Voisin” (c. 1640 – February 22, 1680:burned at the stake for witchcraft), a French fortune teller, poisoner and an alleged sorceress, one of the chief personages in the affaire des poisons, also present in the novel. You also see the appalling poverty and misery of the 99% at the time. France was quite dirty and smelly at the time, including at the court of Versailles. The descriptions in the book give a very good idea about what it must have been to live in those times and conditions. The collapse of Pont Marie in Paris is an amazing passage on that theme in the novel (chapter 12). I enjoyed very much the characters. They are described with real depth, you can really feel you know their personality and their struggles, from the all attentive Claude, to her disabled brother, to the terrible insufferable character of Athénaïs. The King looked sometimes like a puppet under her influence. Some readers have criticized the title of the book, saying it focuses too much on Claudette, whereas the title refers to Athénaïs. I disagree with this view, and believe the title can actually apply to both women. I’m basing my argument on a passage by Claudette herself p.99 In her own way, each of the two women is a shadow queen. This line allows also to think along the metaphor of court as a stage, so un-real compared to the regular life of all others. VERDICT: This magnificent well-researched portrait of 17th century France, from the very poor, to the world of theater, to life at court, is a welcomed change in historical fiction. The world can be a stage, and your choice of characters will have consequences on how you find happiness.
Jasmyn9 More than 1 year ago
The Shadow Queen delivered much more than I expected. Full of intrigue, scandal and secrets - religious cults and fantastic plays. The tale of Claudette begins as a poor player and spans many levels fame. From helping her mother become a famous actress to being the confidante of The Shadow Queen - with much in between.  As part of a family of players, Claudette leads a very interesting life surrounded by some very unique people. One of these people is knows as Athenais - met in a variety of ways throughout the year, Claudette finds herself the woman's confidante. This leads to quite an interesting series of events as Athenais tries to maintain her place as the king's favorite mistress. There was a surprising amount of action in this - duels, floods, missing people - at times the book got quite exciting for a historical fiction novel that wasn't about a war.  I loved the way the story was told. I really felt like I was there watching it all from a hidden little nook in the wall. The clothes, the rooms, the people - all come to life very nicely. The ending was very nice and I loved how Sandra Gulland wrapped up so many of the pieces so nicely and naturally. I don't know much about the time period, but she did include a little bit at the back covering where she too literary licence and what was considered fact which helped me understand the time even more.  *This book was received in exchange for an honest review* 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sandra Gulland’s latest novel, The Shadow Queen, does much to cement her place as one of Canada’s leading historical novelists.  The novel is a companion piece to her critically acclaimed book, Mistress of the Sun. The Shadow Queen begins with a family of players who struggle to eke out a meagre living in what is deemed an immoral profession.  The main character is a spritely young girl by the name of Claudette des Oeillets. She is the daughter of the players. She is shown to be adept at tumbling and other acrobatic skills. She is kind and loyal to her family, looking after her brother who is at best guess autistic or at least simple. A chance encounter with Mademoiselle de Tonnay-Charente, later known as Athénaïs, sets Claudette and the novel up for a most interesting and intriguing run. Asserting what would later become one of her defining characteristics, a pertinacious Athénaïs desires to rid herself of a governess who is not to her liking. She seeks out the help of Claudette in this murderous plot requesting at times both incantations and poisons. Claudette does her best to appease Athénaïs but of course, she is nothing more than an actor. And thus begins a tumultuous relationship between the two that sees them embroiled in a battle for independence and power while having an almost toxic bond in an unconventional kinship. Athénaïs is in the spotlight commandeering and social engineering her own importance. Claudette struggles to live, but never gives up remembering her father’s word, “Nil desperandum.”  Tragically, Claudette’s father is beaten to death. She, along with her mother and brother, moves to Paris, where after a series of misfortunes, they finally begin to have some stability in their lives. They find themselves in numerous situations and skirmishes amongst the theatre culture. Claudette, determined to support her family, ends up in the service of Athénaïs who is destined to be the favoured lover of Louis XIV. Athénaïs eventually forces Claudette to provide more than a seamstress’s service and to become a de facto concubine of Louis XIV.  Athénaïs wields such power over the king that she is referred to as The Shadow Queen. Some may think that the title of this novel is a reference to this, but I would argue the title refers to Claudette. She is the true queen of the novel. She emerges from a life riddled with strife to one of self-determination.  In the end, it is Claudette who has emerged from the shadows of poverty and disadvantage to reign over her own destiny. Gulland’s gifts as a writer are evident in this latest work. It is meticulously researched and well crafted. Historical accuracy is a tenet of Gulland’s work. The book is well complimented by numerous appendixes that aid the reader. The book reads smoothly as Gulland has chosen words and sentence structures that keep up the brisk pace of the plot whilst creating a palette of colours, sights, and smells that transport the reader back in time. The reader will find himself engaged and turning the pages that lead into the nooks and crannies of 17th century France. The book leaves the reader happily satisfied and thoroughly entertained, and most likely, eagerly anticipating the next work from Sandra Gulland. 
bookluvr35SL More than 1 year ago
Claudette, daughter of 2 performers, has acting in her blood but wants more in life than the poverty she has known growing up.  She is fascinated with the courts, and is befriended by Athénaïs de Montespan, who is the lover of Louis XIV.  Athénaïs needs someone to not only be a close personal assistant, but to also safeguard her secrets.  She hires Claudette and thus begins the new chapter of Claudette's life.  This story is truly fascinating and told with such clarity that you feel if you were truly there, witnessing it all unfold.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Shadow Side of the Sun Court. I adore Sandra Gulland's novels, so I was excited to learn she was writing a companion piece to MISTRESS OF THE SUN. MISTRESS OF THE SUN centered on Louise de Valliere, one of the first mistresses of Sun King Louis XIV; THE SHADOW QUEEN offers a darker counterpoint to the earlier novel, presenting an alternate view of Louis's reign through the outsider perspective of Claude de Vin des Oeillets. Claude is a desperately poor teenaged actress when she first encounters the aristocratic young woman who would grow up to become Athénaïs, the dangerously powerful mistress—or "shadow queen"—of Louis XIV. As the years pass, Claude's almost romantic-seeming obsession with Athénaïs brings her into the realm of the Sun King himself, for better and worse. THE SHADOW QUEEN moves adroitly from the stages of the "war of the theatres" to the grand stage of the Sun Court, where life is as filled with artifice as a play. As always, Gulland's top notch research and lush writing offer a richly immersive experience into the shadow side of seventeenth century France. Highly recommended.