The Shadows of Versailles
An Affair of the Poisons, Book One
By Cathie Dunn
May 10th – May 21st 2021
Publication Date: November 20th, 2020
Publisher: Ocelot Press
Page Length: 277 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Historical Mystery
Dazzled by Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge.
When Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV for the first time, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. She dreams of married life away from her uncaring mother, but Philippe keeps a secret from her.
Nine months later, after the boy she has given birth to in a convent is whisked away, she flees to Paris where she mends gowns in the brothel of Madame Claudette, a woman who helps ‘fallen’ girls back on their feet.
Jacques de Montagnac investigates a spate of abducted children when his path crosses Fleur’s. He searches for her son, but the trail leads to a dead end – and a dreadful realisation.
Her boy’s suspected fate too much to bear, Fleur decides to avenge him. She visits the famous midwife, La Voisin, but it’s not the woman’s skills in childbirth that Fleur seeks.
La Voisin dabbles in poisons.
Will Fleur see her plan through? Or can she save herself from a tragic fate?
Delve into The Shadows of Versailles and enter the sinister world of potions, poisoners and black masses during the Affairs of the Poisons, a real event that stunned the court of the Sun King!
“‘Tis not without risk, this.”
Fleur de La Fontaine had led a sheltered life, until now. Her indifferent and coldly calculating mother, Sophie de La Fontaine, is only interested in her daughter now that she is of marriageable age. Sophie is determined to find her daughter a suitable and, more importantly, wealthy husband. Fleur is not opposed to the idea of marriage if it means she can be free from her mother’s influence. But finding a suitable husband turns out to be more challenging than what Fleur had first thought...
From the seduction of an innocent young woman to a scandal that would rock the Court of Louis XIV, The Shadows of Versailles (An Affair of the Poisons, Book 1) by Cathie Dunn is a historical fiction triumph.
With a careful blend of fact and fiction, Dunn has presented her readers with a story that is as compelling as it is harrowing. Forget the glittering grandeur of the Palace of Versailles, this story is gritty, dark and unforgettable.
Fleur, the protagonist in this sordid tale of poison and abductions, is a young woman who falls in love with a scoundrel. He takes her innocence and gives her nothing in return. Desperate for help she turns to her mother, but if she thought she would find a sympathetic ear she was in for a disappointment. The abuse that Fleur is forced to endure is truly horrendous, and it did leave me in tears on more than one occasion. Instead of help, her mother has her confined to a convent where the Mother Superior, Sister Agathe, has more in common with the Devil than with God. There is a deep and embedded cruelty inside the walls of the convent of the Carmelites. These godless women judge, they steal and they condemn, hiding their crimes behind the cross of Christ which is stained by the blood of the innocent that they put there, making a mockery of everything they supposedly believe in.
Betrayed by the man she loves, betrayed by her mother and then treated appallingly by those professing God’s love, Fleur’s left traumatised, and the one glimmer of hope, the promise that her baby, which is stolen from her, would be found alive and unharmed becomes less likely as the days roll by. Fleur is left with a choice, she could make a new life for herself with the man who rescued her, Jacques de Montagnac, or she could find the courage to go back to Versailles and seek her revenge on those who have so ruthlessly used and abandoned her. The anger and the understandable bitterness means that Fleur becomes the very opposite of what she was at the beginning of this novel. The dreams of a young woman had been shattered, and there was no going back. But if she is to seek her revenge, she will need to put herself in a position above reproach. She needs to be in the King’s intimate circle. I thought Fleur’s depiction, her story, was beautifully told. She is not the characteristic strong heroine—she endures what is thrown at her because she has no other choice, but her fragility and frailty made her a heroine that a reader can sympathise with. Fleur comes across as very real in the telling.
The other protagonist in this tragic story of abuse, poisons, human sacrifice and murder is La Reynie’s spy, Jacques de Montagnac. Running alongside Fleur’s story is Jacques. Jacques is investigating the alarming spate in abductions of newborn babies, whom he fears are ending up in the hands of the Black Masses—a group of people whose ideological and philosophical beliefs were based around Satan and who, it was rumoured, had infiltrated the Court of the Sun King. Jacques is determined to find out who is behind the abdications and more importantly he is determined to stop them. But this is no easy task, for they cover their tracks and hide behind a cocktail of lies and the Church. The idea that there were members of the Church who were involved in satanic rituals is particularly vile and it is one that Jacques really struggles to understand. It is during his investigation that his path crosses with Fleur’s. And it is then that Fleur must decide her own future and Jacques reluctantly realises that he can have no say in it. I thought Jacques’ depiction was fabulous. He is the light in this tale of darkness and despair.
There are several antagonists in this story but of all of them, I think Sophie is the most despicable. Keeping in mind the era and what was and wasn’t acceptable, I could understand why she sent Fleur away to a convent so that there would be no hint of a scandal. But it is what she does next that sickened me. Sophie is a very angry, very selfish woman whose bitterness has eaten away whatever goodness there once was in her soul. Her lack of empathy, her patronizing manner and her inability to feel any love for her child was deeply disturbing. And yet it is Sophie that controls the narrative of this story.
With one eye on the historical controversy of this era and the other on what makes an enthralling read, Dunn has presented her readers with an unashamedly impressive novel. Add to this the historical detail and the cast of unforgettable characters means that this book is something very special indeed. The confident use of word building, the crystalline prose, and the vibrant storytelling brought this era to life and shined a glaring light on the Affair of the Poisons. The long hours of research that has gone into this novel is evident throughout. This book is nothing short of a masterpiece.
The Shadows of Versailles (An Affair of the Poisons, Book 1) by Cathie Dunn is an emotionally driven story that is not only bold in its delivery but extremely successful as well. This is a novel that demands to be read in one sitting. I cannot wait to get my hands on Book 2 of what promises to be a tautly gripping series.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
Cathie Dunn writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance.
Cathie has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing, with a focus on novel writing, which she now teaches in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites.
Her stories have garnered awards and praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic description of the past.
Cathie is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
After nearly two decades in Scotland, she now lives in the historic city of Carcassonne in the south of France with her husband, two cats and a rescue dog.