For those of you who don’t know, I am a sucker for a good work of historical fiction. I adore sinking into family sagas from another time. This particular novel, The School of Mirrors, ticked all of my boxes: palace intrigue, a plucky heroine (this story has two), and lush historical detail.
Thirteen-year-old Veronique is poor, young, and lovely. A Parisian by birth, she helps her mother eke out a living by selling rags at the market. Since her father died there has been little joy in her life. But then her life is changed irrevocably when she is noticed by Dominique-Guillaume Lebel, the premier de chamber du rois (the man who is in charge of Louis XV’s bedchamber). He does the proverbial plucking of a young waif from obscurity and sets her up at Deer Park at the Palace of Versailles where she is groomed to become one of the King of France’s “little birds.” These pre-pubescent girls were the sexual fantasies created by Level, especially for his king. Even the king’s mistress, Madame du Pompadour, had knowledge and a hand in selecting these girls according to the king’s taste.
After many months Veronique finds she is pregnant and is sent away to give birth to another of the king’s bastards. This child, a girl named Marie-Louise, is separated from her mother at birth and the second part of the novel begins with the tracing of her life from a child to middle age. There are a great many obstacles to overcome and triumphs to celebrate all splashed upon the glittering backdrop of eighteenth-century France. Stachniak visits the royal and wealthy as well as the grinding poverty of the working classes and leads us from monarchy to revolution.
Stachniak, author of The Winter Palace and Empress of the Night (both novels about Catherine the Great), wrote a sweeping historical novel that is perfect for savoring on your fainting couch. This is the first novel I have read by this author but will definitely seek out her previous works for when we have our condo renovated and I have a long Sunday afternoon to spend soaking in my brand new bathtub.
The School of Mirrors will be released on February 22, 2022.