And you thought sisters were a thing to fear. In this captivating 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.
The year is 1745 and King Louis XV’s bed is once again empty. Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a beautiful girl from the middle classes. As a child, a fortune teller had told 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.
Told in Christie's celebrated witty and modern style, The Rivals of Versailles will delight and entrance fans as it brings to life the court of Louis XV in all its pride, pestilence, and glory.
About the Author
Sally Christie is the author of The Sisters of Versailles and The Rivals of Versailles. She was born in England and grew up around the world, attending eight schools in three different languages. She spent most of her career working in international development and currently lives in Toronto. Visit SallyChristieAuthor.com to find out more about Sally and the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy.
Read an Excerpt
The Rivals of Versailles
The gypsy’s hair is as red as blood, I think in astonishment. She catches me staring and starts, rabbitlike, as though she recognizes me. But she does not, and I certainly don’t know anyone quite so dirty.
“I pray you not to touch me,” I say as she comes toward me, but still there is something familiar about her. My mother bustles over, carrying a pastry in the shape of a pig, and pulls me back from the filthy woman.
“Just look at those perfect eyes,” says the woman. She takes my hand, a coarse brown mitt over my own, and I smell a mix of smoke and sweat. “And that heart-shaped face. She is as pretty as a miracle, though no wonder with such a handsome mother. I’ll tell you her fortune.”
“We have no need of counsel from the likes of you,” says my mother harshly and pulls me away into the crowd, almost colliding with a pair of shepherds reeling in a drunken dance. The fair is in full swing, a riot of festivity and noise billowing around us:
“Fresh lemons and fresh lemonade, sugared or not! Fresh lemons, straight from Provence.”
“A pair of dancing ducks! A pair of dancing ducks!”
“Come see the white bear, only fifteen sous!”
“No, no,” wheedles the gypsy woman, appearing once again at our side. “I will tell her future. I know it already.” She catches Mama’s curiosity and deftly pockets it. “But I have no need to tell you how special she is. A princess with a queen for a mother.”
Mama inclines her head, softened by the compliment.
“Come to my tent and I will tell you of the wondrous future that lies ahead for little . . .” She leers keenly at me, sees the engraved J on the porcelain pendant, tied with a ribbon around my neck. “Little Julie . . . Jo— Jeanne?”
“Oh! But Jeanne is my name!” I exclaim. How did she know?
My mother wavers. “No more than fifty sous, mind you.”
“Eighty is my price, but none has ever been dissatisfied.”
The two women stare at each other and I stomp my foot, impatient to be away and see the dancing ducks. I have no need for my future to be told, for what nine-year-old ever doubted their happiness? They reach an understanding and reluctantly I follow the red-haired woman into the gloaming of her tent. Something slithers in the dirty rushes at my feet and the foul odor of uncured leather swamps the air. Smoothly she pockets the coins my mother gives her and her hands, as coarse as bark, fold over mine again.
“No cards?” asks my mother imperiously.
“No need,” says the woman. The outside world fades and the gypsy seems to grow in stature and dignity. Brown fingers steal over my palms, and up and around my wrists.
“Your daughter is a pearl.” She speaks as though in a trance. “So rare—open hundreds of oysters, but you’ll find only one pearl.” Soon we are lulled by the soft stream of her voice: “Your future extends even beyond the ambitions of your mother. You will be loved by a king, and be the most powerful woman in the land. Your future glitters like the stars. A little queen: I see it as though it passes in front of me.”
She snaps out of her trance and smiles ingratiatingly at my mother. “And there, madame, the fortune of your daughter.”
“How do I know it is true?” asks my mother, and her voice comes from far away; she is as spellbound as I.
The gypsy snorts and spits neatly into the rushes. “Because I can see what is to come. This little girl is special. She will be the lover of a king.”
My mother flinches. I know vaguely what a lover is: a nice man who brings gifts and compliments, like my Uncle Norman.
“The way is not all clear,” the gypsy continues, stroking my palm lightly. “I see several great sorrows, three men on dark horses riding across the plain.”
“None of that,” says Mama sharply. “She is much too young.”
“Three is a number far less than most will know,” retorts the gypsy.
We emerge back into the crisp sunshine of the October day, the world bright and noisy after the confines of the dirty tent.
“Mama,” I ask timidly, uncertain of asking for a trifle after such momentous news, “can we go and see the ducks now? The dancing ducks?”
My mother looks down at me and for a second it is as though she knows me not. Then she blinks and squeezes my hand.
“Of course, darling. Of course. My Reinette,” she adds. “My little queen. What wonderful news! Come, let us go and see these ducks you have been pestering me about all morning. Anything for my little queen.”
That night Mama’s lover Norman comes to visit. Papa is away in Germany, disgraced for some business no one will explain to me, and it is Norman who takes care of us. Uncle Norman, as I call him, often spends the night. I’m not sure why, for his house is far grander than ours. We don’t keep a single manservant, only Nurse, and Sylvie in the kitchens. Perhaps he is lonely—he is not married—or his sheets are being laundered. Mama is very beautiful and Sylvie once said that we only live comfortably because of Mama’s friends. It is good she has so many.
Mama and Uncle Norman closet themselves in the salon and I eat alone with Nurse and my little brother, Abel, who fusses and spits out his milk. I think of the fortune-teller and her hands, like dried old leather—how did they get so rough?
“Marie, do you think our king is handsome?”
“Of course he is, duck. The most handsome man in France, as is fitting.” We have a portrait of the king in the salon: a small boy, stiff in a magnificent red coat, with large eyes and thick brown hair. I think he looks sad, and quite lonely. He was only five when he became king. That must have been difficult, with still so much to learn, and who would play with a king?
Of course, the king is older now—he turned twenty this year, more than double my age—and is married to a Polish princess. Sylvie says the queen looks like a cow and I imagine her to be very beautiful, with large, soft eyes and a peaceful expression. How lucky she is to be married to the king!
Later that evening my mother comes to say good night. She pushes a strand of hair back into my nightcap and strokes my cheek. I love my mother with all my heart; the nuns at school say the heart in my chest is no bigger than a chestnut, but how can something so small hold so much love?
“Dearest, your Uncle Norman and I have come to a decision.”
“Oui, Maman.” I am fighting to keep my eyes open but what Mama says next opens them wide.
“Jeanne, darling, we have decided you will not return to the convent.”
Oh! “But why, Mama?” I sit up and duck her caressing hands. “I love the convent! And the nuns! And my friend Claudine, and what about Chester?”
“Who is Chester?”
“Our pet crow!”
“Darling, these things are for the best. You must trust Uncle Norman and me.”
“But why?” I ask, tears pricking my eyes. I love the convent and had secretly been counting the days until my return. Only twelve, but now that number has become forever.
“Darling, you heard the gypsy woman. You have a great future ahead. My little Reinette.”
“Why do you care what that smelly old woman said? It’s not fair!”
“Reinette! Never speak like that about other people. No matter how dirty they may be. Now, listen, dearest. Uncle Norman has agreed to take care of your education. This is a wonderful opportunity and you will learn far more than the nuns could teach you.” My mother imparts her desires through her tightening grip on my hands. “He promises you will learn with the finest musicians in the land. We’ll buy a clavichord! And take lessons in painting, and drawing, and singing. Anything you desire.”
“Geography?” I ask.
“Certainly, that too, darling. We shall order a globe from Germaine’s. And elocution as well, I think. Though your voice is very pretty by nature.”
Mama leaves and I snuggle down to sleep, happy, dreaming of my very own clavichord. I will write to Claudine very often and we will always remain friends, and they will take care of Chester and all will be well. As I drift down to sleep, I realize I forgot to ask why Uncle Norman is suddenly taking such a strong and expensive interest in my education.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It was an alright read. It was a little too similar to the first book near the middle but the end really pulled it all together.
The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie The second book in the Versailles series, looking at the mid-life chapter of King Louis XV's reign. The rumored and known loves of his life, and the women who rose to power because their connections to the king. The main character The Marquise de Pompadour,Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, who is a middle class lady who rises to power and influence because of her connections to the king . Although their physical affair was short lived she spent the remainder of her life in his court, despite the rivals and trials of the Court. The book looks at each of her rivals as she accepts and illuminates them leaving their initials one by one on engraved stones in her fish bowl. This is a masterful look into a sheltered world of Versailles in the 18th century.
As a child, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson meets a gypsy that tells her she will one day be the king’s mistress and a very powerful woman. As she belongs to a modest bourgeois family, this prediction seems very outlandish, but her mother believes it and makes sure Jeanne gets the proper education of a lady. With a little help from her godfather’s connections at court, Jeanne manages to meet Louis XV, and they start a passionate love affair. She receives the title of Marquise de Pompadour, and her influence in Versailles grows despite her many enemies. Will she be able to hold the king’s attention despite of him being a notorious womanizer? Will her rivals be successful in banning her from court? The Rivals of Versailles is a historical fiction and the second book in the Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy. I found that the author’s writing style had significantly evolved since her first novel, even though she uses the same devices as in her debut: short chapters that often end with a letter. This gives the story a certain rhythm and helps it go forward in time. In addition, I thought that the Marquise de Pompadour was a fascinating woman, ambitious and bright. When I started reading, I believed the novel only told her story, but it also talks about Rosalie de Romanet-Choideul, Marie Louise O’Murphy and Marie-Anne de Mailly de Coislin, the women who each plotted to unseat the Marquise. I especially enjoyed the book’s comedic moments, particularly during Rosalie and Marie-Anne’s short-lived stints in the king’s bed. However, at the beginning of the book, it sometimes seemed we didn’t have Jeanne’s end of the conversation, as dialogues only included what her interlocutors were saying. Surely, she couldn’t have charmed Louis XV without talking to him? On the whole though, this was a great read, and I highly recommend it. I can’t wait for the last book in the trilogy, The Enemies of Versailles, that will come out in the spring of 2017! The Rivals of Versailles was sent to me for free in exchange for an honest review. Please go to my blog, Cecile Sune - Bookobsessed, if you would like to read more reviews or discover fun facts about books and authors.
I love very much historical novels, most of the ones I have read were set in England. I was happy to learn a bit of French history. This book was a very pleasant and interesting read. The protagonist of this story is one of the most famous lovers in history and certainly one of the most influential in politics, Madame de Pompadour. She was the greatest love of Louis XV, she led for many years his choices and perhaps was the main cause of his downfall. He became king when he was only a child, was much loved by his people, but when he started collecting lovers his life had become very dissolute. And his people had stopped loving him. The book tells the life of Madame de Pompadour from childhood until her departure from Versailles. She was a beautiful and very charming woman, smart, resourceful, enterprising but had humble bourgeois origins. After a fortune teller predicted that she would become very important as a queen, her mother tried to give her the best education possible. She grew up among girls from higher social classes that had always derided and humiliated her but has served to learn her to fight. When she was able to attract the attention of the king would fight hard to stay at his side, she had many enemies who didn't consider her suitable to share a bed with a king. The story is written really well, the author is very good at capturing the attention of the reader and to maintain it throughout the story. The pace is flowing, exciting, never boring. The setting is fabulous, we will move together with the protagonists in the beautiful rooms of the palace of Versailles. A reading really intriguing and interesting. I love this series and I look forward to reading the third book. Although it is the second book can be read as stand alone but I recommended to read the first too, it is really intriguing, four sisters all lovers of Louis XV. If you love historical romances and France this book is perfect for you but I would recommend it to everyone. I received a copy of this book from the author/publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Rivals of Versailles once again sweeps readers into the enchanting palace of Versailles where life is never dull and intrigue is merely second nature. First, there was The Sisters of Versailles. The talented, but infamous Nesle sisters who ruled Louis XV’s heart have come and gone, leaving the position of official mistress open. The Rivals of Versailles introduces us to the woman who later becomes one of the most influential women in France. Never before had a mistress, especially of the bourgeois, reigned as though a queen’s crown was placed upon her head. Marquise de Pompadour was called many things within her life and even her death, but none can deny what she accomplished. The Marquise was an interesting woman to read about and even though the book is a sizeable one, the end comes much too soon. Pompadour is a name that has remained recognizable beyond her time, marking that her life, her achievements, and how important she truly was to the king, as a friend and an advisor, still captivate people. To come from seemingly nowhere and to then rule France for nearly twenty years, while young, beautiful rivals sprang up like dandelions was not a small achievement. I’m eagerly awaiting The Enemies of Versailles. Sally Christie knows how to write historical fiction that are like candies, delicious to the very last taste.
Superb presentation of life at the court of Louis XV, and how a mere bourgeois mistress ended up being the famous and powerful Marquise de Pompadour, right hand of the king, defender of culture, and redoubtable to all potential rivals. As actually many other kings, Louis XV (1710-1774) has had quite a collection of mistresses. He even managed the feat to have four blood sisters, as recounted by Sally Christie in The Sisters of Versailles. Then it was the turn of a unique woman: la Marquise de Pompadour. This is what volume two, The Rivals of Versailles is about. And it is superb! The book really covers almost of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson‘s life, from the age of 9 to her death. The legend is that a gypsy predicted she would become the lover of a king. Taking it seriously, her mother started calling her “reinette” (little queen) and decided to give her an exclusive education, including singing, dancing, and history. She married the count of Étiolles, which happened to be one of the royal hunting grounds, and Louis XV had a passion for hunting (not just women!). After some arrangement with Richelieu (whose “job” it was to supply mistresses for the king), they did meet, and that was the beginning of it all. Now, there was a major problem for the time: Jeanne was a mere bourgeois, not a noble. Imagine, even her name betrayed her low social origin, “poisson” meaning “fish” in French. The author does a fantastic job at showing the different facets of this challenge as the woman tried to be, if not welcomed, at least respected at court. But the king seemed to be totally in love, and he soon gave her the title of Marquise de Pompadour. What’s really amazing, and shows Jeanne’s astuteness and strength, is that she gained more and more power and ended up working as the right hand of the king, giving him advice even in war matters. As a way of preventing the king from being bored, and of keeping him interested in her, she even started a theater company at court, hence launching a whole craze for theater all over France. She really laid the emphasis on culture – which actually could have been even more illustrated in the book. She knew very famous people and authors like Voltaire, a very important mind of the time. One day, two Austrian prodigies, Wolfgang and his sister Maria Anna, were introduced to her. Choosing to hardly ever talk about her husband count Étiolles and the queen herself, Christie deftly shows the impact la Pompadour had on the king’s life and the court of the time, for so many years, despite the fact that at first, everyone thought she would only be a passing fancy of the king, because of her low social origins. But if Étiolles and Marie Leczinska were both “inconsequential” (chapter 21), that was definitely not the case for other rivals, potential replacements of Jeanne as the main, official mistress. Well, she also had her powerful and efficient ways of dealing with that type of danger, or with any person threatening her one way or another, be it with slander printed in pamphlets. Full review on my blog, the number of words are sadly limited here
This book is a continuation from the first book in the series: The Sisters of Versailles. I really liked that this book picked up right where the other one left off. The author does her research as it shows in the descriptions. I have not read anything about Madame de Pompdaur before so I felt as if I was learning a piece of history along with enjoying a captivating story. That is always a plus for me. I also enjoyed the letters that were included. They made the story even more real to read. Sally Christie has a way of making her characters really come off the pages. If you love French history then you will enjoy this book. I can't wait until the final book in this trilogy comes out. It will be interesting to see how it all ends.