*I received a free copy of this book with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Blois, 1705. The château 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 love and domestic politics 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.
Life is hard when your only options in life appear to be mistress or prostitute, and the line is finely drawn between the two. Life is harder still when you are not even the favoured mistress… or wife.
Fashionable feathers are ruffled – and even plucked – when Duc Hugo d’Amboise adds a new, very young and very beautiful, mistress to his establishment. Simmering jealousies and resentments come to the fore, as his established mistresses and his wife are forced to confront this change to their amicable arrangements and to face the insecurity of their positions at the whim of a changeable man and the mercy of each other.
Henriette stands above the petty jockeying for position, holding true to her values at the expense of her own (and her daughter’s) comfort, but even her virtue is tested when the irresistably charming Romain de Villiers offers her an alternative. Unfortunately the sweet-talking Monsieur is renowned for having more than one string to his romantic bow. Still, Henriette is made of strong stuff; she has faced difficult choices before, and has secrets of her own.
This historical drama of intrigue, backstabbing and betrayal is completely riveting and I couldn’t stop reading, desperate to find out whether Henriette, Letitia and Solange would manage to navigate the shark-infested chambers of the château and emerge unscathed to find some form of happiness. The story and characters are well-written and the period details are exquisite; I really felt that I was there, listening at corners with Solange and walking in the gardens with the ladies of the house.
This realism also really brought to life just how dangerous and precarious life as a woman in 18th Century France could be. Even scheming Céline engendered sympathy when we saw how limited and unappealing her options really were, and how desperate she was to cling to the dregs of power that she once tasted. I really wouldn’t have wanted to be a single one of the characters, but was thoroughly invested in their fates.
I would highly recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys a well-told historical fiction, packed with intrigue and some romance, and centred on the female characters and their concerns.
‘Well, have you met her?’
Turning from the window, Henriette feigned ignorance. ‘Have I met whom?’
Charlotte sighed. ‘Letitia. My husband’s child concubine. I know your rooms are tucked away, Henriette, but you’re the most senior mistress. Are you truly unaware of what’s going on?’
‘there may have been whispers, among the maids. It’s just another young mistress; what is it about her that disturbs you so?’
Charlotte pulled a lace handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes. ‘She is ravishing and virginal,’ the duchesse said. ‘Her voice is sweet and she possesses an uncommon wit for a girl of eighteen. But these virtues are the least of my concerns. My husband…he appears…’—her voice quavered—’to be in love with her.’
– Kate Murdoch, The Orange Grove