Author: Sally Christie
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles #3
Published: March 21 2017
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
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.
The third and final volume of Sally Christie's Mistresses of Versailles series tackles retelling the story of one of the most infamous women in French history: Jeanne Bécu, better known as the Comtesse du Barry. As she first did with the Mailly-Nesle sisters, and then with Louis' longtime paramour the Marquise du Pompadour in the first two novels, Christie uses women of the court as a focus; she brings new life to old scandals by offering fresh perspectives from often-ignored sources. The Enemies of Versailles is not only the narrative of Jeanne, but also that of Madame Adélaïde, the oldest of the Kings unmarried daughters at Court. The two women could not be more disparate, and their personal and interpersonal differences show clearly in their respective chapters. Using these two contrasting viewpoints to showcase new sides to Louis' reign and Court, Christie ably depicts and plots her newest historical fiction.
Through the long years of his reign and as shown in the previous books, Louis XV's romantic affairs often led to strife for not only for him, but also for the (various) women involved, and for France itself. But none of his many liaisons were as divisive or damaging as was his last maîtresse-en-titre. Objectionable to his family and in laws, and to his courtiers, Louis relationship with Jeanne foments trouble from their earliest interactions. Madame Adélaïde, especially, cannot countenance her royal father trysting with a woman so far below him in rank -- which leads to further family strain and issues within the Court itself. Though she is often held entirely to blame by most, Jeanne's appointment to Court (A commoner! Not even bourgeois!) is merely a symptom of Louis' overall indifference to his roles as King in his later years. Louis clearly begins to disregard the rules and societal mores instituted to keep him in power - though he rules absolutely in his divine right, his grasp loosen and Jeanne takes the blame (and eventually pays the highest price) for the poor decisions her king made.
Though Louis is the crux of the series and of each novel's romantic entanglements, the plot of The Enemies of Versailles really belongs to Jeanne and Adélaïde and their years-long, occasionally dormant battle of wills. Thrown into conflict due to strictures of both society and religion, the struggle between the King's mistress and the King's daughter is a permanent, enveloping fixture of The Enemies of Versailles, and goes on to have international repercussions when the dauphine Marie Antoinette chooses sides. Though ostensibly the two are fighting for Louis' time/attention as the premiere ladies of his court, their individual stories contain far more depth and subtlety than that. These were two very unlike women trying to survive and succeed in a world where their looks, family name, and marriage prospects were all they valued for. Louis is more macguffin than main player when it comes to his lover and his daughter. Over nearly four hundred pages, Sally Christie is able to string together these two very different POVs into a coherent, cohesive historical fiction novel. Jeanne and Adélaïde are vibrant, realistic, and recognizable despite Christie's unique reinterpretations/condensations of their real life stories.
With an eye for detail combined with the ability to craft new versions of old historical figures, Sally Christie's Mistresses of Versailles trilogy has been both original and compelling. The Enemies of Versailles ably concludes what The Sisters of Versailles began and The Rivals of Versailles continued. This last and final addition has fewer POVs than its two predecessors but the inner monologues of the Comtesse du Barry and Madame are engaging, complicated, and memorable; as narrators, they make for a strong, solid ending to the libertine life of Louis XV.