The Enemies of Versailles
by Sally Christie
In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.
“That beastly bourgeois Pompadour was one thing; a common prostitute quite another kettle of fish.”
After decades suffering the King’s endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.
Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches inevitable revolution.
I’ve been ill (thanks, brain) and this is much, much later than this review should’ve been posted. Forgive me!
The Enemies of Versailles is masterfully crafted, there is no doubt about that. It’s told in first person by Jeanne Becu (Comtesse du Barry) and Madame Adélaïde (daughter of King Louis XV) in turn. Both of their voices are strong and ring through every word of their narratives. I was enraptured with them both from the beginning – even Adélaïde, which surprised me, since I almost always root for the mistress(es) exclusively in these novels. Adélaïde is a direct antagonist to Jeanne, vying in subtle and later overt ways to oust her from Versailles and keep Jeanne from the king. Madame du Pompadour dies offscreen near the beginning of the novel and this sparks Adélaïde’s crusade against mistresses that carries the plot along.
The beginning was so strong that I lost a few hours and found myself more than a little late to an appointment. The introductions of new characters didn’t always leave it clear who may be important later on. This is less of an issue for a reader who may be coming fresh off of Rivals.
Around halfway, however, I lost the spark. There was a lull in the drama. This, unfortunately for me, coincided with a personal reading slump I was having and suddenly I was reading this book for weeks before I finished it. It wasn’t long after the lull that the story really kicks off again (and I do mean really), and I finished it in a very long night.
When viewing the series as a whole, one gets a scope of just how selfish Louis really is. I don’t think I have ever gone into or come out of a mistress novel thinking that the king was a real stand-up guy. One of my favorite things about this series is that it’s completely unnecessary to read them in order. Each one works as a standalone, which is a marvelous thing. You lose only the king’s overarching plotline this way. Characters overlap in minor ways, if at all, save perhaps Choiseul and Louis himself.
Adélaïde and Jeanne are perhaps the strongest characters of the whole series. They are the voiciest, the most unabashed in their desires, and both of them are pretty witty. I adore this trilogy and the women who have told it. If you’re in the market for a historical fiction series with unique female voices, The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will not steer you wrong.
Disclaimer: A free eARC was provided for review via NetGalley.
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