Pardon me. I’m just feeling a bit emotional right now. I’ve officially finished the Mistresses of Versailles series by Sally Christie. Now when book bloggers write discussion posts about series, I can brag that I’ve read THREE series from start to finish and then offer my opinion on whatever it is they’re really writing about. I’d like to say that it’s a testament to the author that the series has made it on my brief list of completed series, but it’s not because the Twilight saga is also one of those three.
I know I’ve dedicated a fair amount of blog space to the genius that is the Mistresses of Versailles already, but allow me just one more post (at least this quarter because I know the Enemies of Versailles is going to be mentioned again in my 2017 wrap up post). My love for this series was so unexpected because it was entirely out of my comfort zone. I only dabble in historical fiction, and I try to steer clear of any books that could be described as “steamy”. Yet, here I am, consuming these books faster than Victoire consumes her cordial. These books are vibrant and full of life and personality. They’re hilarious. And, tucked in between
bed sheets pages of scheming mistresses and unfaithful kings, there is actually a lot of substance, whether it’s the surprising depth of the characters or…well…the socio-economic structure of 18th century France, the fall of the House of Bourbon, the French Revolution, how brothels work.
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.
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.
The series as a whole was consistently well-written and engaging, but the Enemies of Versailles was perhaps my favorite novel of the trilogy. In the Sisters of Versailles and the Rivals of Versailles, there were several narrators. While the shift between the many narrators made the novels seem fast-paced, I did find the flip-flopping to be confusing at first. I also found some narrators more compelling than others. But the Enemies of Versailles only had two narrators– Comtesse du Barry, the king’s official mistress, and Madame Adelaide, the king’s daughter.
It’s been interesting to watch King Louis XV’s mistresses decline in social standing throughout the course of the series. The Sisters of Versailles were nobles. Madame Pompadour was bourgeois. And Comtesse du Barry, despite what the name suggests, was of an even lower social strata and made ends meet through prostitution. Comtesse du Barry, like previous mistresses, was portrayed as an airhead at first, distracted by gilt and gems, but she later grows in to her role at Versailles (thankfully not as maliciously as previous mistresses).
To give a voice to Madame Adelaide, the king’s daughter, was also a fascinating choice. I suspect one of the reasons is to juxtapose France’s First Estate (the nobles) against the Third Estate (the commoners), as the tides of revolution lap at the gates of Versailles. But it also demonstrates how unnatural the royal family feels– like the queen and her children just simply existed in the background because King Louis XV had more important things to pay attention to (certainly not church sermons though). With the children being taken care of by wet nurses and tutors and whose marriages were treated as business deals and war strategies, it’s surprising they would even have any kind of attachment to their parents. And yet, Madame Adelaide seems to truly adore her father and not just because he is the King of France. Their relationship made me feel so sad though. I got the sense that Madame Adelaide wanted to have a real relationship with her father but couldn’t. Not only has she been constantly cast aside when King Louis XV preferred to dote on mistresses, she, like every other royal subject, had to request an audience with her father!
The Enemies of Versailles didn’t seem as fast-paced as the two previous novels, but there was more character building and more world building this time around. Christie’s challenge was to make readers care about these two women, who seem self-centered and too caught up in living in material excess (maybe kind of like the Kardashians). Because, inevitably, the novel ends at the beginning of great turmoil– the French Revolution. The final scenes of this novel, this series, when royalty is being beheaded and nobles are being tried for being spies for the old regime are some of the most emotional, which is unexpected. Throughout this entire series, Louis, his mistresses, his family, the court at Versailles, heck! even church leaders, are caught up in this gross obsession with wealth at the expense of everyone else. They’ve bankrupted their country and raised the deficit and yet, the government will not make any motion to reform taxes. People are suffering, and to make matters worse, the nobles don’t even recognize the damage they have done. There is this wonderful passage to capture this:
“Six hundred black crows breaching the walls of our palace. Who are these men? Nothing, their blood denuded of that essence that marks the noble races. The nobles have defended France, the clergy has prayed for France, but what have these men done? Probably they do some tasks that are important, but they are menial ones, and why should they have any glory or power for that?“
And yet, the final chapters are the most gripping. Despite their attitudes, I still hoped Madame Adelaide and her family could escape the revolution. I still hoped Comtesse Du Barry’s pleas wouldn’t fall on deaf ears as they dragged her to the guillotine.
I can’t praise these books enough. Stop what you’re doing and go read this books now!