Blois, 1705. The chateau of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue.
Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the chateau with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the Duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies.
The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in domestic politics and love strive for supremacy.
In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
The rich historical detail of France, at the beginning of the eighteenth-century, is brought to life, with the intrigues, passions and sacrifices of the five court mistresses, in the house of the Duc Hugo d’Amboise. All the women of varying ages and backgrounds have been drawn into the Duc’s household, his Duchess tolerates their presence until she realises, her husband is falling in love with the youngest, Letitia. Threatened and heartbroken she uses the rivalry and secrets, of her uneasy housemates to remain the household’s dominant female.
I was enthralled from the first pages, this story is a compelling read. The female characters are flawed and beautifully written, all victims of circumstances, they fall into an uneasy alliance, to survive, and make their lives, and that of their children bearable. The society they create is akin to the animal kingdom, one dominant male, a hierarchy of females, that is constantly under pressure. The reality this story portrays is shocking and hard to countenance in the 21st century. In eighteenth-century France, they were considered lucky by most, but the reality is less palatable.
The abuse of status and power is also explored, with the vulnerable at the mercy of the people who should be protecting not abusing them. Status is the lynchpin of eighteenth-century French society, and to maintain it, many were prepared to sacrifice, their beliefs, morality and family.
The plot is constantly twisting as more secrets are revealed and used by the desperate Duchess to maintain her status. Underneath, the courtly manner is something wild and dangerous. Innocents have to become streetwise to survive. All the characters are believable and fascinating, some are easy to empathise and like. The ending is shocking, but it is inevitable the story will not end well for all.
A dramatic and often poignant story, that shows the depths humanity will sink to survive. The ultimate bloody end of this society is not surprising.
Kate Murdoch is the author of Stone Circle. She exhibited widely as a painter both in Australia and internationally before turning her hand to writing.
Her short-form fiction has been published in various literary journals in Australia, UK, US and Canada.
Stone Circle is a historical fantasy novel set in Renaissance Italy. It was released by Fireship Press, December 1st 2017. Stone Circle was a First in Category winner in the Chaucer Awards 2018 for pre-1750’s historical fiction.
Kate was awarded a
KSP Fellowship at the KSP Writers’ Centre in 2019 to develop her third novel,
Her novel, The Orange Grove, about the passions and intrigues of court mistresses in 18th century France, will be published by Regal House Publishing in 2019.