Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

THE RIVALS OF VERSAILLES
by SALLY CHRISTIE
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy (#2)
Published: April 5, 2016 by Atria Books
Genre: historical fiction > France
Pages: 448p
Source: Edelweiss
Rating: ★★★★☆

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.

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While The Sisters of Versailles focused quite a lot on the relations between the sisters de Mailly-Nesle, The Rivals of Versailles revolves first around King Louis XV, though all roads lead back to Madame de Pompadour. It’s not without reason that most know the name of Madame/Marquise de Pompadour (if not her birth name, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson). She was intensely important not just to the king, but to France, and the world.

The novel begins with a Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson that I found to be unbearable. Unschooled in etiquette, ambitious though rather empty-headed. It was only later, when seen older and through the eyes of ‘rivals’ who were mostly recruited by the Marquise herself. Experience rounds her out as a character and makes the reader root for her despite the odds. Though historians tend to laud favor on Jeanne Poisson for her patronage of the arts, The Rivals of Versailles doesn’t hold any punches when it comes to Madame de Pompadour being generally despised by France and the majority of the court.

Like its predecessor, The Rivals of Versailles is filled with letters (generally to the Marquise when it is her point of view, and from the Marquise when it is not). They act as a little flavor and backstory, and give glimpses of the Marquise during long stretches of her life being told by other women – or girls, more likely. There are also Entr’Actes, windows to the Marquise (then Duchesse) while the others have their stories with the King told. They also serve to place the events of the novel among important events in history where it wouldn’t fit to have one of the girls mention the events themselves, given how ignorant Marie-Anne is.

The middle of the novel is told by lesser mistresses of Henry XV, all of whom seek to banish the Marquise and take her spot as chief mistress. Rosalie (Charlotte Rosalie de Choiseul-Beaupré), Morphise (Marie-Louise O’Murphy), and Marie-Anne de Mailly de Coislin all tell their stories sandwiched between the beginning and end of the Marquise’s life.

For me, this novel was far better than the first. Sally Christie really put herself to work making these girls seem alive; what’s more is these women cannot lean on each other as the de Mailly sisters could for humor in the first novel. They all stand alone, distinct and wonderful. Rosalie as a particularly lecherous girl, Marie-Louise as a steadfast girl in the face of child prostitution, and Marie-Anne as a poor pawn, an empty-headed girl used to advance the desires of others. All of their acts end in a similar fashion – and I won’t say what, but you might guess. Each of them, too, shows a different facet of the aging King, and the wit and power of the Marquise de Pompadour, whose entire life and livelihood revolves around Louis XV.

The beginning, with a young Jeanne Poisson, was slow for me – as were the long and weary chapters with a salacious Rosalie. However, soon I sank into the novel and was swept away on a tide of lechery and indiscretion. This second installment in the trilogy is more steamy than I remember the first being, though not too steamy as to draw away from the delectable power plays and backstabbing of court life. I am not a particular fan of ‘romance’ novels, or smut. The Rivals of Versailles handles with the budding sexuality of young women, and the unfortunate cases of child prostitution, in a way that is neither inappropriately titillating nor offensive while retaining the facts and emotion of a scene without being salacious itself. This is a difficult line to walk and Sally Christie managed it with ease.

And, like when Anne Boleyn was executed, I cried at the Marquise’s death. Mistress novels always have me rooting for the girls who, having lived several hundred years prior to myself, are of course dead. And what a way to end a book, if a bit cheesy. I eagerly await the next installment, which will cover Comtesse du Barry and the daughters of the king. September is too long to wait!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Read my review on The Sisters of Versailles, book 1 in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy.

 

     MEET YOUR BLOGGER!

Your blogger just hours before the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

My name is Alex, and I’m a twenty-something queer girl from the midwest with a hardcore fiction addiction. I don’t care for romance in books, but I love my cat and cute video games.

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One thought on “Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

  1. Pingback: The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie | READS to LIVE

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