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The Porcelain Dove

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3.41  ·  Rating details ·  239 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Narrated by the irrepressible chambermaid to a French duchess, this exquisite blend of authentic 18th-century memoir and classic fairy tale is a dazzling story of devotion, intrigue, and superstition as literate and compelling as Possession or The Volcano Lover.
Paperback, 416 pages
Published July 1st 1994 by Plume (first published 1993)
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Average rating 3.41  · 
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Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
You never know with obscure fantasy novels, especially those written by women, whose works are still too often unjustly ignored. There are some hidden gems out there. (Here, have some recs: Firethorn. The Secrets of Jin-shei. Fudoki.) And then there are the books that are forgotten for good reason. This one falls into the latter category. Unfortunately, it’s so hard to find that I wound up requesting and receiving it as a gift, at which point I felt obliged to read all of its 500+ pages.

The Por
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Kelly
Aug 15, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review originally published at FanLit; reposted here with some more casual commentary.

I really can't argue with most of the points in Emma's review, though I enjoyed the experience more than she did. I agree with her that Illusion is a lot more fun. (For a newer take on the period, so is Enchantée.)

Years ago, I got into “fantasies of manners” at about the same time as I was going through a big Revolutionary France phase. When I heard about Delia Sherman’s The Porcelain Dove (1993) — a fantasy se
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Juushika
In eighteen century France, Berthe Duvet becomes chambermaid to Adèle du Fourchet, later the Duchess of Malvoeux. Centuries later, Berthe tells the story of a curse placed on the Duke's family which drove them all to madness and isolation until the youngest child and only daughter set out, against the backdrop of revolutionary France, to bring back the porcelain dove and break the curse. A lush period piece overlayed by both French society and everpresent magic, The Porcelain Dove is somewhat co ...more
Alecia
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was ok
Have you ever wondered what an epic fantasy quest story owuld be like if told from the perspective of the regular people who got left behind?

Yeah, me neither. But apparently someone has, and that was clearly the inspiration for this book. However, it's 95% historical fiction and it just keeps going...and going....and going....

squirrelmeme

I should have given up a long time ago. Generally if it takes me more than a month to read a book, it's not worth it. But I got halfway through it and felt like I had spe
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Madly Jane
Review forthcoming. Re-reading.

This books is narrated by the maid of a young girl who is sent off to marry a French nobleman right before the French Revolution. The story follows their marriage and children and what happens to them as a family. There is a curse of sorts, or maybe it is a blessing, but it's magical and separates the family from the world of war.

The more I read this book, the more I appreciate the hard work put into it, the imagination and dedication to re-creating a sense of lang
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H. Anne Stoj
Nov 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
I must admit I'm disappointed in the novel. Which is a shame, as Greer Gilman gave it praise and I absolutely adore her work. Delia Sherman, not so much.

Ah, the French Revolution--probably one of the most exciting periods in history and yet...somehow in the magical land that I forget the name of, it's a light sneeze. Originally I thought it was going to be about that, the Revolution, but no. It's some very odd combination of fairytale, which I think I would've enjoyed without the French part, an
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Althea Ann
Nov 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Back in 18th Century France, just at the cusp of the Revolution, a small but wealthy country estate is hit by a fairy curse - and the few people within are trapped. Immortal, comfortable, all their needs seen to by invisible servitors - but they cannot leave. There's little to do to pass the years but put on plays and amusements, and well, to cultivate the acquaintance of the local ghosts.
Berthe, who was once a maid in the house (centuries of being trapped in a small group has done quite a bit t
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Brittany
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
The Goodreads blurb claims that this book is "Narrated by the family's chatterbox chambermaid, it is a rich, sinister, and funny novel of romance, sorcery, and aristocracy." I found almost all of these descriptors to be false. The maid's no chatterbox. While the setting may be rich and the plot and some characters sinister, it wasn't at all funny. But most disappointingly it wasn't even that interesting. I kept waiting for the real book to start. And while I was patiently wading through words to ...more
Kali Napier
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enchanted tale set during the French Revolution, resonant of Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, and Sleeping Beauty, and drawing on many more fairy tales. For the most part, this reads as a densely descriptive historical fiction told through the perspective of Berthe Duvet who is the lady's maid to Adele, Marquise de Malvoueux. Names, ranks, hierarchies within the chateau are detailed (and complicated to keep up with at first). Berthe is the traditional lady's maid, devoted and loyal to her lad ...more
BeetleBlack
I generally really like Delia Sherman's writing, but this was not quite what I expected. I don't mind slow-moving novels about court intrigue or aristocratic households, but most of the characters were over-the-top unlikable to me. The narrator is billed as being clever and sharp-tongued, but she struck me mostly as distant and a little cowardly, rarely able to stand up for herself or anybody else, or even to express a strong opinion, even as everything around her dissolved into pandemonium. The ...more
Wealhtheow
This mostly reads like a historical novel set in pre-revolutionary France, but fantastical elements slowly creep into the plot. I absolutely adored the main character--I wanted her to be a friend of mine, and I wanted her to figure out why she liked cuddling and kissing her mistress so much. Her unwitting lesbian love is *adorable*.
Ashley Sigmon
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A delightful novel inspired by and written in the style of the fairy tales of Madame d'Aulnoy. Highly recommended, especially for fans of Susanna Clarke, Sarah Waters, and, of course, Ellen Kushner.
Robin Rivers
I wanted to love this.
I never got to the point where I did.
Jessica Fulk
A slightly mad fairy-tale, although, maybe more of a historical fiction/fantasy with a sub plot of peculiar magic. A tale told slowly, (not for everyone hence some of the disgruntled reviews) recreating pre-revolutionary France, in wonderful detail, narrated by the maid devoted to her Duchess. All the magical action is saved for the last quarter of the book, but it's the detailed story and prose that is delightful.
Debbie Notkin
I liked this book a lot when it was new in the 1980s, but I _loved_ it when I re-read it before I interviewed Delia at a recent convention. Anyone who likes historical detail (especially women's historical detail), France, or thoughtful off-trail fantasy will be very happy.
Ascolta
Jul 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I discovered Delia Sherman through the excellent anthology Fantasy Magazine, October 2014: Women Destroy Fantasy! Special Issue, and though the pacing structure verges on plodding, The Porcelain Dove offers a remarkable glimpse into pre-revolutionary France. Full disclosure: this is an era I normally would have little interest in; the decadence of the "nobility" is already clear enough to make delving into its intricacies seem a bit of a bore. That said, Sherman does a remarkable job enlivening ...more
Mary
Sep 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
I can only describe this book as magical realism, but about the first two thirds of it seem to be straightforward historical fiction. Berthe, the narrator, is the devoted lady's maid to Adele de Fourchet, an 18th century upper class French girl whose parents arrange her marriage to an aristocrat, the Duc de Malvoeux. Their lives are spent in a round of expensive and exclusive pleasures: chocolate every morning, new gowns, books, entertaining, and traveling back and forth between Paris and the Du ...more
Marigold
Sep 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a really fun novel that combines elements of 18th century French history, French fairy tales, and magical realism. The narrator is Berthe Duvet, ladies maid to Adele, who becomes Duchess of Malvoeux. Berthe is a wonderful fictional voice, a strong woman who loves her friends, does her job well, suffers, perseveres, never marries, and holds strong loyalty to Adele and the family she marries into. Set against the background of the French Revolution, the Malvoeux family struggle against a c ...more
Cora
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 18th-century
The Porcelain Dove is a fantasy of manners that takes place in France in the late eighteenth century. It is told from the point of view of Berthe Duvet, a duchess' chambermaid. She is telling the story of how she came to be given immortality in a never changing castle where the inhabitants are waited upon by bodiless hands and entertained by demons. It is a story about how her master came to be cursed and how the curse was broken and how she found herself living in a version of "happily ever aft ...more
Melanti
I did like this a lot. However, it bothered me somewhat that the curse was tied in to the events of the French revolution and a country-wide famine. Are we supposed to believe that an entire country of people or at least one class of people were all punished by the same curse? That seems excessive, even considering the magnitude of the offense. If we don't believe that, then we're left with... what, exactly? The curse being madness? Unsuitability? Most of the character flaws that created what co ...more
Jeremy Lyon
Jun 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, fiction
The great fun in this novel is the juxtaposition of a rich and detailed portrayal of revolutionary era France with a kind of European-flavored magical realism. The narrator Berthe is a wonderfully realized and accessible lady's maid whose down-to-earth approach to narrating the events in her life, both mundane and mystical, is an agreeable background for the highly dramatic events that occur around her.

I enjoyed the first half of this book more than the second. I can't pinpoint exactly where the
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Johanna Bordeaux
Jan 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When I think or am asked "What are your favorite books?" I never forget to add "The Porcelain Dove." It is an exquisite piece of fiction, as satisfying as any other classic I have ever read and I am primarily a reader of English classics. Ms. Sherman sets a very high bar for herself. This is a book about layers––layers of personal relationships, political relationships, layers of perception, layers of comprehension. And she manages to get every aspect right.

And at the same time, it is a MAGICAL
...more
Ryan
Mar 14, 2010 rated it liked it
A romp through the world of French nobles in the years leading up to and just after the French Revolution, with a bit of magic tossed in, from the perspective of a lady's maid. Berthe is not a timid, compliant lady's maid, so her perspective is often one of exasperation with the silliness of her mistress. I like Delia Sherman's writing and her stories - this was a bit...longer than usual, and by the end I was just happy to be finished. Like the world the story describes, there was light frippery ...more
Holly
This novel was an enjoyable mix of historical fiction and light fantasy, set in the countryside of pre-revolutionary France. It has led me to start reading similar books in the fantasy genre which I am enjoying very much. My first introduction to fantasy was Tolkien, and to be honest; all those non-human creature characters were a distraction from the story. So perhaps this makes me a low-brow wussy fantasy reader, but I don't care, I really like these adult fairy tales with their not-so-happily ...more
LemontreeLime
Jul 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that takes a long time to read, but is totally worth the effort. Imagine 'Howl's Moving Castle' occurring in pre- revolutionary France, and narrated by someone on the sidelines of the story. Now mix that with Bronte's 'Villette', and maybe toss in some elements from one of Tamora Pierce's many series. Give it an unexpected ending, and you will have 'The Porcelain Dove'. Sherman's research for this novel was exemplary, and her cleverness in weaving it together was inspi ...more
Katie M.
I picked up this fluffy historical fantasy in the hopes that, based on another book that Sherman co-authored, it would have an enjoyable gay protagonist. I would even have settled for throwaway gay subplot. But no, nothing but insufferable heterosexuals as far as the eye can see. And worse yet, it takes place in 18TH-CENTURY FRANCE, the most boring combination of century and geolocation in the history of the modern world. Le sigh.
Ry Herman
Jan 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Fantasy novel about a maid in 18th century France. I kind of wish this had just been a historical novel about a maid in 18th century France. That part of the book, which to be fair is the bulk of it, was pretty interesting. The fantasy aspects of it, done in the manner of French fairy tales, often seemed odd and tacked-on, and sometimes made the main character seem like a peripheral element of her own story.
Sumali
Mar 10, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
yea- - just didn't like it; didn't get it; had to force myself to finish it.
Laura
Mar 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy
A+ on the research but D+ on the readablity
Denise
May 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, read-2013
A rich mixture of historical fiction and fantasy, this was a beautifully written, strange but enchanting novel.
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Delia Sherman (born 1951) is a fantasy writer and editor. Her novel The Porcelain Dove won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award.

She was born in Tokyo and brought up in New York City. She earned a PhD in Renaissance studies at Brown University and taught at Boston and North-eastern universities. She is the author of the novels Through a Brazen Mirror, The Porcelain Dove (a Mythopoeic Award winner), and Ch
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