Highly recommended for anyone interested in the world of 17th-century French theater.
The title of the book is a little inaccurate - while the novel certainly features the woman who was known as 'The Shadow Queen,' Athénaïs, Madame de Montspan, the main character is the woman who came to be her companion, Claude des Oeillets.
We follow Claude from dire poverty, as the daughter of a family of travelling players, to reasonable success in the theater world. Through a series of coincidental meetings (and they do seem very coincidental) she develops a huge girl-crush on the wealthy Athénaïs, who eventually takes her into her confidence as her intimate maid.
The story starts out extremely strong, with vivid characters, a great set-up, and a lively writing style. The depictions of the theatrical lifestyle and its intrigues are fascinating and fun.
However, the pacing didn't quite hold up, for me. The character of Gaston, Claude's autistic brother, grew a bit tedious. Rather than the classic dramatic structure of rising action to a climax... things happen... and then some more things happen.
Historically, Mademoiselle des Oeillets is known for her alleged involvement in 'The Affair of the Poisons' - a huge court scandal in which Satanic black masses were supposed to have been put on, and thirty-six people were executed. For such a major (and shockingly dramatic!) event, in this book it's brought up and skipped through quite quickly - and I felt that an opportunity was missed to explore the true complexity and nastiness of the French court society.
The author's focus here, is more creating a rags-to-riches story set in the theater world. (To that end, she definitely also exaggerates Claude's family's low standing - in reality her family were official appointees to court, and owned their own theater company, so her meeting Madame de Montspan was probably not nearly as unlikely as the book makes it appear.)
Still, while there were things I'd like to have seen more of in the story, this was a very entertaining diversion. Gulland's a new author to me, but I'd definitely read more of her work.
Copy received through NetGalley, from Doubleday Books. Thanks!