Sunday, July 26, 2009

The French Mistress by Susan Holloway Scott

The acclaimed author of The King’s Favorite returns to the decadent court of King Charles II to follow the dazzling life of Louise de Keroualle, a shy maid of honor who would rise to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful women of her time.

1668: The daughter of a poor nobleman, Louise leaves the French countryside for the glittering court of the legendary King Louis XIV. As a baby-faced maid of honor, the innocent Louise attracts little notice––until she catches the eye of the visiting English king, Charles II. Before long, she is sent by the scheming Louis to London as a royal “gift” for Charles. There she is expected not only to please the tastes of the jaded English king, but to serve as a spy for France.

Alone in a foreign land with few friends, many rivals, and ever-shifting loyalties, Louise soon learns the perils of her new role. Yet she is too clever—and too ambitious—to be merely a pawn in the intrigues of others. With the promise of riches, power, and even the love of a king, Louise dares to create her own destiny in a dangerous dance of intrigue between two kings—and two countries.
One of the regular subjects that I have seen discussed over the last couple of years in various forums is the fact that there are so many Tudor books around. Don't get me wrong, I still love to read a well written book on Henry VIII and his wives, but there are other very interesting English kings that don't seem to get anywhere near as much attention as Henry VIII. There are probably lots of other very interesting figures from history outside of English royalty that we don't hear about enough either.

One such king that I have only had small glimpses of in the past is the Merry Monarch, Charles II. He first came to my attention when I watched a mini-series that featured the very, very tasty Rufus Sewell as Charles II. Then there were glimpses in Forever Amber , enough to make me want to know more. And what a story it is. His father was dethroned and Charles II had to live in exile. Then Charles II was returned and he proceeded to have mistresses all over the place, whilst remaining married to his Queen. The long running struggle between Catholics and Protestants continued throughout his reign, especially when his heir came to the throne following Charles' death.

So what about this book? This is the third book in Susan Holloway Scott's ongoing series about the loves of Charles II, and features Louise de Keroualle. She was a young French lady who was a maid of honour to Charles sister, Henrietta, Duchess D'Orlean, known as Madame, who was married to the brother of Louis XIV (known as Monsieur). Louise came from a poor but noble family, and finds herself overwhelmed and overlooked at the French court, but she soon comes to be one of Madame's closest companions. When Henrietta travels to England to negotiate an integral treaty between her homeland and her adopted country, Louise accompanies her and so is introduced to the very handsome and virile King of England, Charles II.

Following the death of Henrietta, Louise finds herself sent back to England with a dual purpose. The first is to be a 'gift' to Charles, and the second is to be a spy for France. And so begins a love affair that stood the test of time, and the challenges associated with trying to love an English King but still serve the French nation. Even when Charles' attention strayed, he returned time and again to Louise.

The Charles that we see in this novel is a man of contradictions. He seems to have had unflagging energy (and he needed it with all those mistresses to keep happy, and the resulting children to be actively involved with), and appears to have an incredible charisma when it comes to charming the ladies. And yet, he obviously had his own personal integrity, stubbornly choosing to not put his queen aside despite the lack of an heir.

Having not read any of the other books in the series (yet!), it took me a few pages to get used to the way that the story was told. I was also a little uncomfortable with the first portion of the book that was set in the French court. I have read about Monsieur, Duc D'Orleans in other novels set in the French court, namely the Angelique novels, by Sergeanne Golon and he is inevitably portrayed as a very unlikeable character. It is no different here, but in a way it was a very intimate glimpse into a disastrously unhappy royal marriage and in some ways that was quite confronting to read.

Once the action moved away from the French court, Louise, and this book, really came into their own, becoming a very assured and confident lady and story. Without being graphic there was no doubt of the attraction between Charles and Louise, no doubt of the jealousy at Court as Louise is granted honours and gifts, and no doubt of the rivalry between Louise and the other established mistresses of the King, chief among them Barbara Palmer (Lady Castlemaine) and the actress Nell Gwynn.

If there was any other criticisms of this book, it is that the ending was quite rushed, and it would have been really interesting to see what happened to Louise once Charles died. I guess though, the fact that I wanted to read more about Louise, can be taken both as a bad thing and a good thing. The book was cut a little short, but I enjoyed the book enough to want to read more.

In the end I found this an enjoyable read, and I am now in the process of acquiring the first two books in the series. I will definitely be looking for the next book, which Susan has revealed will be called The Countess and the King about Catherine Sedley and should be released next year.

This is one of the books that I read for the Pub09 Challenge.

Thanks so much to the author for sending me an ARC of this book.

8 comments:

  1. What a great review. You've sold me on this one. I'm adding this book to my list.

    Slip Carefully

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  2. Don't know if you know the Nell Gwynne quote about LdK?

    Catholics weren't very popular at the time (as you read) and Nell was in a coach that was accosted by a crowd who thought she was the Catholic, French Louise. She leaned out the window and shouted, "Good people, you are mistaken; I am the Protestant whore." They liked her honest candour so much they let her go without any further trouble. :)

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  3. That is mentioned in the book!

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  4. Great review Marg, really enjoyed it. I love Susan Holloway Scott's work but I haven't read this one yet

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  5. I think this sounds like a fabulous series, and one worth more investigation. I am going to try to find the first book and give it a go. Thanks so much for posting this, the book looks delectable.

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  6. This sounds really good! I read The King's Touch, about Charles II's son, and really enjoyed it, but I haven't read much else about those Stuarts. Rufus Sewell, though... he'd be fun to watch in a mini-series! Though I've always seen portraits of Charles II and thought he looked a bit swarmy.

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  7. I'll have to look for this series; I've been thinking for ages that I must read more about the seventeenth century. And I'll be able to revive some memories of that miniseries!

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