The Shadow Queen: A Novel

The Shadow Queen: A Novel - Sandra Gulland Thank you to Doubleday books for providing me with a copy of the book to read, it was such a pleasure and I enjoyed the journey I took along with Claudette through this wonderful masterpiece.

I am not the biggest fan of historical fiction – often the writing is dry, the story too clustered with facts, characters, and events. There rarely, I find, is a medium between an overly-modernized version of a story/event/character, or it is far too clustered with historical accuracy so that it reads more like an informative novel rather than a historical fiction.

This book was a rare example that is in that sweet spot in the middle. And it had so many positives about it.

The pacing of the story is just right. It gave just the right amount of attention to the various stages of Claudette’s life and allowed for each of the characters to develop and become memorable, giving them distinct personalities which allowing for some traits to follow customs or habits of the time. A big plus of this novel was that, though the setting was 17th century France, the use of French words and phrases was limited and appropriate in those places where they did show up. The theater was wonderfully covered in the book and given much attention to, especially the issue the players faced when it came to religion and how the church viewed the world of the theatre.

The synopsis of the book didn’t lie in this case, another rare positive, and everything that was described in it appeared in the book. The title of the book ‘Shadow Queen’ was very fitting as well, as Claudette’s role of being the good, proper ‘knight’ who always did what was right and reasonable was emphasized throughout the duration of the novel, especially looking at her relationship with Athenais and how much she was involved behind the curtain in helping her with the scandals and dark side of the royal court. I worry that there will be people who’ll approach this book expecting some really dramatic soap-opera-in-a-novel, in which case I do warn that this isn't the case. The book approaches the subject in a built-up way, taking the time to let everything unravel and build the backdrop for the stage before allowing the characters to jump onto it and begin playing their roles.

My favourite aspect of this book, which wasn't necessarily a big one and might perhaps be overlooked by other readers, is just how much attention and accuracy was given to the time period. The author beautifully conveyed every side of the French society. There were mentions of mouse droppings in the corners of the room and of the stench that stood when the river overflowed when Claudette, her mother, and brother Gaston first arrived in Paris. At the same time there was also mention of the issues around human hygiene and body, as well as details such as female pubic hair being dropped. It’s one of the great disadvantages of our time, I think, being unable to convey these simple but rather human aspects of the time period, as it is often shown in historical movies that women have shaved legs and clear skin with no hints of acne or whatnot. In this book some of these aspects were shone upon, something I was extremely pleased with. Another detail was how often Athenais got pregnant from her constant relations with the King. It made the story much more alive and realistic for an engaged reader like me.

This book succeeded in capturing my attention as a reader and keeping it throughout the entire journey. The cast of characters was very well written and enjoyable, the setting well-developed with, as a said, just the right amount of small details to enrich it and make it that much more realistic. I was not disappointed and was left satisfied by this fascinating novel. Another wonderful addition at the end are some historic notes and a glossary of some terms for those who are really keen on learning more or reading about the historical facts behind characters or events. It’s a perfect touch that encompasses the whole experience.

It was a beautifully crafted novel, though it’s not one everyone will enjoy, I do realize. It requires a patient reader that will take the time to fall in love with the characters and forgive their occasional stumbles as they work through their parts, a reader who is interested in French culture and theater and see the darker side of the French court without expecting too much and just letting the story take you where it goes.