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Book Review: "The Shadow Queen" by Sandra Gulland

"The Shadow Queen" by Sandra Gulland

From an impoverished childhood to the theaters of France to the royal court of King Louis XIV of France, Claudette des Oeillets was the Queen of Transition! The daughter of two actresses, Claudette grew up roaming the French countryside with her family's acting troupe to losing her father and struggling to provide for her mother and brother in Paris to becoming part of a distinguished theater company, and finally becoming a confidante and treasured personal attendant to the most glittering of King Louis XIV's mistresses, Athenais de Montespan. "The Shadow Queen" by Sandra Gulland is the story of the real-life Claudette des Oeillets, a woman who experienced transition, change, and a whole lot of drama and scandal.

"The Shadow Queen" explores the life of Claudette des Oeillets with its ups and downs, changes, and bonds with those closest to her. As a young girl traveling France with her family, Claudette comes into contact with a beautiful little girl from the nobility. This beautiful little girl turns into a gorgeous woman who changes Claudette's life forever. Athenais de Montespan was the little girl turned mistress of King Louis XIV of France that plucked Claudette from her mother and brother and the theater and brought Claudette to court to become her confidante and personal attendant. At court, Claudette watches as Athenais lives a glamorous and luxurious lifestyle and seemingly controls King Louis, but the French court is a desperate and dangerous place and Claudette watches as Athenais uses poisons and black magic to keep King Louis and places Claudette in danger and peril. "The Shadow Queen" is the story of a complicated bond between two very different women and their needs, wants, desires, hopes, and dreams.

"The Shadow Queen" is a fantastic novel. For some reason, the alluring and seductive Athenais de Montespan has been ignored in historical fiction, but Gulland perfectly brings her to life. Gulland's portrayal of the complicated Athenais is spot-on from her love of extravagance and her famous temper, but also her surprising moments of kindness and love for those closest to her.

Gulland also does a wonderful job portraying the real-life Claudette des Oeillets, a woman who served Athenais and got caught up in the danger of the Affair of the Poisons. Claudette is a likable main character who is loyal to those she loves, intelligent, strong, and also has a conscience. Her bond with Athenais is particularly powerful.

Other highlights of the novel is how Gulland portrays the French theater and the major players of the time period including Corneille, Racine, and Molière. Gulland's descriptions of the various plays, the theaters, the playwrights, and the actors and actresses is another interesting part of the novel.

As always, Gulland is one of the best historical writers on French history. She consistently brings the various French historical figures to life and tells their stories perfectly. Reading novels by Gulland is like being part of French history.

"The Shadow Queen" will prove to be one of the top historical fiction novels in 2014 because of interesting characters, a unique story, and such attention to detail and research. This is a walk back in time you don't want to miss!

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