Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

Although Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were the King and Queen beheaded during the French Revolution, much of the discontent of the populace that led to their execution was set during Louis-Auguste's grandfather, Louis XV's reign. Nowhere is this more apparent than in XV's final years, the years in which, ironically enough, he takes a common woman, in fact a low born, illegitimate Paris prostitute not only into his bed but into Versailles itself. Sally Christie's final installment in the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy (after The Sisters of Versailles and The Rivals of Versailles) details not only the rumblings of Louis XV's court as the unpopular monarch ages but also the life of his last, doomed mistress, Jeanne, Madame du Barry and that of his daughter, Madame Adelaide.

Jeanne Becu is an angelic looking child who grows into a beautiful woman. Daughter of a cook, she "models", although perhaps entices is a better term, in a fashionable dress shop when she falls in love with the Comte du Barry, one of the store's wealthy patrons. He makes the fresh looking beauty his mistress, awakening her sexuality and trying to curb what he sees as her frivolity and low class antics. Once she is presentable enough, Barry becomes her pimp, securing her high class lovers. This development shatters young Jeanne's dreams of a monogamous life with her adored Barry and although reluctant, she has no choice but to do his bidding. His ambitions will eventually bring her to the attention of the King, who is still mourning the loss of his beloved Madame de Pompadour. As much as Louis is enchanted with this new lovely temptress, his family and the court at Versailles has no interest in this common Paris courtesan, resolving to effectively ignore the King's latest plaything.

Told in chapters alternating between Madame du Barry's rise to grace the highest bed in the land and chapters centered on Madame Adelaide, one of Louis's daughters who is vehemently against du Barry and what she sees as an attack on her and her sisters' very royalty, the story pits the two women against each other. Adelaide's loathing and her entitlement as a daughter of France makes it clear just what forces Jeanne is up against and how she will be ostracized, even with the King on her side. Jeanne is a much less political creature than the mistresses who preceded her and she is less able to play the games required at court, presenting herself simply as herself, a stunningly beautiful, sweetly kind woman who wants very much to be accepted and liked. Madame Adelaide, by contrast, is not only much higher in the hierarchy but very aware of her own consequence, certain of what she is owed, commanding and rigid and determined to make life for this palace interloper unpleasant. Beneath her haughty and unpleasant manner though, is the heart of a girl who doesn't understand why her father no longer holds her in the esteem he once did and who desperately seeks to regain the love she has lost. The power games within the sheltered walls of the court start to take on a brittle tone as the clamor for a more populace focused government becomes louder and louder, occasionally even leaking into the otherwise sheltered palace.

Christie has deftly juxtaposed the rigid piety of Adelaide with the sensual profligacy that brings du Barry to court in the last years of Louis XV's life. But she also shows the insularity of the court, not only in regards to protecting their own consequence but also as regards the feelings of the majority outside the walls of their unreal world. People starve for want of bread while the princesses royale spend millions of livres on vacations and other frivolities and du Barry accepts fantastically expensive jewels and the lavish lifestyle she certainly knows from her own upbringing to be excessive. Both women are sheltered from the reality of the outside world because of their residence in Versailles and although Madame Adelaide sees and resents some of the seeds of the coming revolution, she cannot conceive of a general public who would truly destroy everything she's ever known. Jeanne, for all her sexual knowledge, is rather naive and so she too fails to discern the mood outside the gates, focused as she is first on Adelaide's dislike of her and then on the young dauphine, Marie Antoinette's. This final book doesn't finish with the death of Louis XV and Jeanne's banishment from court but instead follows both Jeanne and Adelaide as the Revolution swirls around them, changing the trajectory of their lives forever. This allows the reader to see how Louis XV's reign, his choices and his attitude, led so clearly to the brutal bloodbath that was the Revolution in full flower. This is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy for sure, a fascinating and engrossing read. Those who have read and enjoyed the first two will definitely want to read this. Those who haven't yet read the first two can jump into the history and the story here without missing a beat.

For more information about Sally Christie and the book, check out her author website or her Goodreads page. Also, check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the author for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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