Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Blog Tour Review: Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson

From the Back Cover:

Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King's opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.

The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini’s birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother’s dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie’s charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin’s ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin’s deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis’s love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.

My Thoughts:

After thoroughly enjoying Marci Jefferson's debut, Girl on the Golden Coin, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Enchantress of Paris. I've read a few novels about the Sun King's court, but they all took place a bit later in his life, after Marie Mancini was out of the picture, so I knew nothing about this trailblazing young woman who captured a king's heart and made such an impression that her name appears in many letters and remembrances of her contemporaries.

The story begins with the death of Marie's mother, when a teenage Marie fully falls under the control of her powerful uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, and we are introduced to all of his nieces--the Mazarinettes, as they are called--and discover how he has used each one who has come of age to strengthen his position of power as top adviser to Louis XIV. Marie is perhaps the most clever and headstrong of all and vows to retain what little control she has over her life. But that doesn't come easy. When she catches the young king's eye and begins to spend time with him, she sees how completely her uncle and the king's mother are controlling his reign, and she determines to help the king realize his full potential on his own. Her desire to do so is admirable, and the author paints a picture of a woman who truly loves the king and wants to see him succeed in his own right, and it's just an added bonus that she gets to see her uncle fall in the process. But this strategy puts her at direct odds with her uncle, especially when the king decides to take a strong stance on the subject of his marriage and vows to marry Marie rather than one of the foreign princesses the cardinal is negotiating for.

And that's when everything starts to go downhill. As smart and daring as Marie is, she is no match for the most powerful man in France. She and Louis make a valiant effort, but the cardinal is always one step ahead of them. Nothing and no one is safe from his machinations as he uses anything he can to achieve his goals and bring down his niece. I cried right along with Marie as she finally realized her dreams of sharing a future with Louis as his wife were not going to come true. I don't know if it went down in history exactly as it does in this novel, but here it was heartbreaking. I wanted to kill the cardinal myself and shake some sense (and a backbone) into the king.

Enchantress of Paris is interesting in that it subscribes to the controversial assertion that Cardinal Mazarin was actually Louis XIV's father. I'm no expert on the subject, but it certainly does create a plausible explanation for the partnership between the cardinal and the queen mother and their rigorous control over the young king. There is a lot of focus here on court politics and the art of dressing to do battle in such an environment. This has caused other reviewers to label the novel as "fluffy," but given that one can draw strong comparisons between the Mazarinettes and their family's struggle to hold sway over Louis XIV with the Boleyn/Howard family's quest to hold on to Henry VIII in England, I appreciated all of those dazzling details and the effort it took to hold one's own in such an environment. Parties, pageants, salons, and feasts are also depicted in sumptuous detail, making this novel a treat for the senses.

Everything was going along fine for me, aside from a little bit of a lag in pacing in the middle of the book, until I got to the epilogue. Many years have passed, and we learn through very brief mentions that Marie's adventures did not end when she left the Sun King. In fact, they were just beginning! I understand that the author chose to focus on Marie's life as it related to Louis XIV, but a true tribute to this remarkable woman should have allowed the reader to continue on with her as she became a star in the Italian court and truly took her destiny into her own hands. Coming in on the shorter side of historical fiction at 316 pages, there was certainly room for it. Chances are that if that epilogue had not teased me with juicy little details about that time in her life, I would not have felt the lack of them so keenly and lamented that I was missing out on a big part of Marie's story. But as Marie herself says in the epilogue, "That is a story for another day," so dare I hope for a sequel???

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

Enchantress of Paris is on a blog tour!
Tomorrow, I'll be hosting a Q&A with Marci and a giveaway!

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