I received an advance copy from NetGalley (in exchange for an honest review, of course!) of Sandra Gulland's latest, The Shadow Queen. I thoroughly enjoyed her novel Mistress of the Sun when it was released a couple of years ago, and this book only enhanced my regard for her work.
The Shadow Queen could be considered a companion (but not a sequel) to Mistress of the Sun as it takes place in France during the reign of Louis XIV. The heroine, Claude des Oeilettes, is plucky and resourceful; despite the fact she continually sacrifices her own wants and desires to ensure the well being of her loved ones, she never becomes overly saintly.
Gulland really excels at painting Athenais de Montespan, the spoiled second mistress of Louis XIV. At times horrible and ruthless, she has a secret streak of sweetness and vulnerability that make her redeemable. Some readers may feel she goes too far in her demands, most notably her insistence that Claude sleep with the King in order to keep him within her realm of influence. But such demands merely place Athenais as a product of the overindulged French aristocracy.
The novel's drawback (a small one) is that the court intrigues are swept under the rug in favor of the battles of Parisian theatre. If equal time had been devoted to both, the novel would have been a five star read. Nonetheless, "The Shadow Queen" is not to be missed and will be enjoyed by those who like French history or royal romances. I certainly hope that Ms. Gulland will write a novel about Louis's next well known mistress (and future wife), Madame Maintenon. I can't recall any historicals featuring her so it would be a welcome addition.
This novel releases on April 8th, and can be reserved at Amazon or your preferred retailer.