1676. In a hovel in the centre of Paris, the fortune-teller La Voisin holds a black mass, summoning the devil to help an unnamed client keep the love of Louis XIV.
Three years later, Athenais, Madame de Montespan, the King's glamorous mistress, is nearly forty. She has borne Louis seven children but now seethes with rage as he falls for eighteen-year old Angelique de Fontanges.
At the same time, police chief La Reynie and his young assistant Bezons have uncovered a network of fortune-tellers and prisoners operating in the city. Athenais does not know it, but she is about to be named as a favoured client of the infamous La Voisin.
"This book kept me reading into the night... luxury and squalor, royal scandal and sorcery... how could it not?" ~ Fay Weldon, author of The Life and Loves of a She-devil
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Historical fiction has a higher bar for me. Not only do I need riveting characters that wheedle and panic and scheme; I need to smell the powder on their wigs and see the sores on their faces. Not only do I need a gripping plot filled with intrigue and peril; I need to feel the heat of the execution pyre and the motion of the royal carriage as it rolls across the countryside.
This book offers all of that and more. (It also manages to do so within a reasonable number of pages, unlike many bloated tomes that are typical of this genre.)
Braithwaite’s writing makes you want to eat the words off the page. (Except, of course, when she’s plunging you into an overpopulated, rat-infested prison cell in 17th century Paris; then you’ll want to keep your lips tightly shut.)
The book is populated with characters that are infinitely compelling in their hideousness, but also sympathetic. An ambitious young investigator’s idealistic search for the truth uncovers a web of sorcery and witchcraft that stretches as far as the court of Louis XIV and then, in a breathtakingly revolting twist, threatens to ensnare him as well.
As much as I cringed for the young officer, however, my heart was with Athenais, the magnetic but aging mistress of the womanizing King. Athenais resorts to black magic not only to retain the King’s affection but also to save her position and the future prospects of her children. What a fascinating peek into the dynamics (and limitations) of female power in the court of Louis XIV.
For readers who like a side of actual history with their fiction, you’ll be intrigued to find that many of the characters in the book are real. There’s nothing better than learning about historical figures and events through the eyes of a talented storyteller.
Set aside some time after you’re done reading to do some serious Wikipedia browsing. You’ll be surprised how much richer the 17th century seems now that you’ve spent time in Braithwaite’s Versailles.
An excellent and well-researched tale woven around the "Affair of the Poisons" during the reign of Louis XIV.
Athénaïs de Montespan, Louis' official mistress of longstanding, has fallen out of his favour. At the same time, interrogations are taking place to determine who has used the services of quacks to rid themselves of inconvenient spouses or to take part in black masses to regain the lost affections of lovers. The inquiries go right to the heart of Louis' court and people at the highest level appear to be implicated. Did Madame de Montespan use such services or not?
The "Affair of the Poisons" is now shrouded in mystery and the full truth about who was involved will never be known. Charlatan is a plausible story about what might have happened. The author captures the spirit of the age, where the seedy politics of the Sun King's court was the ugly reverse side of its glittering exterior.
This is a compelling and well-written read, with rounded and believable characters against an atmospheric backdrop. Highly recommended.
Kate Braithwaite's debut novel, Charlatan, is an incredibly well-crafted book. You are instantly taken to Louis XIV's France, with mystery, intrigue, and intricate plot lines. Kate's style is easy to read, her descriptions are vivid, her characters are well-developed, and her depth of historical research is impressive. This book kept me hooked right through to the end.
Paris, 1676. At the house of the fortuneteller Catherine Montvoisin (La Voisin), while two hooded forms watch, a wayward priest burns a piece of parchment in a spell designed to awaken the passions of Louis XIV of France. Three years later, those performing the ceremony become the target of a police investigation into the so-called Affair of the Poisons. Through interrogation, strategic imprisonment, and selective executions, the police gradually close in on La Voisin. But because of confessions exacted through torture, the widening scandal sweeps up more than four hundred suspects, including some of France’s most prestigious aristocrats. When a zealous young officer goes after La Voisin’s daughter and threatens to implicate Louis XIV’s official mistress, the marquise de Montespan, the police chief gets cold feet. But the young officer remains determined to bring those he considers guilty to justice, until in the end only the intervention of the Sun King himself can sort things out.
In Charlatan, Kate Braithwaite vividly brings to life the extremes of seventeenth-century French society, from the stews of Paris to the luxurious apartments of Versailles and the Carmelite convent where one of Louis’s discarded lovers has chosen to end her days. Sometimes beautiful, often brutal, her portrayal of the Sun King and his world will haunt you long after you finish reading.
I've long been fascinated by the French court of Louis XIV, and I've always rather fancied myself sweeping the long corridors of Versailles, but since I am not in possession , as yet, of a time travelling machine, I have to rely on the work of good authors, like Kate Braithwaite, to bring this period alive in my imagination.
From the very beginning of this story my imagination was fired and even as I turned the first page I was transported back to a dark and dirty time, back to a time where danger lurked in shadows and where good men, and bad, were toppled by greed and evil conspiracy. These were indeed dark and scurrilous times and walking in the footsteps of the King brought with it its own particular brand of danger. I loved way the Versaillian court comes to life, a life which is made all the more complex by the not so subtle ways of wily women and by the deep and devilish claims of those corrupt individuals whose lust for power overshadowed everything.
During the course of the novel there is much to take in, not just from a historical perspective but also from the lively way in which the characters go about their daily business. There is no doubt that the author has researched her subject very well and this shows in the fine attention to historical detail. I was completely beguiled by the sights, sounds and scents of seventeenth century France, which captured the very essence of Louis XIV’s time at Versailles, and which filled my senses with a rich and vibrant awareness of history coming alive on the page.
Charlatan is a fictional historical read based on the real life revelations of the Affair of the Poisons. I have to admit this is the first historical novel I’ve read set in the 17th century. The story begins in Paris, 1676, with a dark, terrible mass ceremony is undertaken with words of witchcraft and sorcery and unimaginable scenes all in the name of snaring a lover. The story continues 3 years later with the King’s Officers of the Law conducting extensive interviews, interrogations, torture and executions to try and find out the truth around the rumours of all the witchcraft conducted in the most stately of places, the court of King Louis XIV of France.
It did take me a little while to get into the novel with all the different characters but I’m so pleased I read on as I became quite fascinated by the deceit, the guilt, the greed, the lies, the witchcraft. I was shocked by how far someone would go to greedily get what they want. The story is quite raw and honest with some graphic historical scenes but this makes the words from the book come alive. At the end of the book I appreciated the author’s take on the story, one that I hadn’t known about, and I enjoyed this shocking tale of events in history that you can’t quite believe happened. A dark historical read full of secrets, greed, deceit, guilt, tragedy, witchcraft … 4/5*
Loved this book! To be true, I forced myself to pay attention through the prologue and try to make sense of the scene enfolding, I wondered if the whole book would require this level of concentration. I adore historical fiction, but this felt more like a scene of religious black magic. Indeed it was. Slow to pick-up on the book's theme, as the story would tighter, I found myself sometimes reading with mouth agape hunched forward waiting to be told what would happen next. At one point, while fighting for light on a plane inching toward darkness, I grabbed a pen from under seat, and began to underline the paragraphs as I realized the writer's skills in crafting the unexpected paragraph were the glue to holding together this incredible tale. In it's separation from reality, it actually made the work completely understandable and believable. For instance, she surmises "When he has pulled up her petticoats a few times and found nothing more special there than he can find in any serving girl, he will tire of her youth and ignorance and come back to you where he belongs." And so, the story winds itself through the French court allowing us to hear the tale from characters often left behind. Curl up with Charlaton, and experience the illuminating magic of the talented Kate Braithwaite's first novel.
VERDICT: Brilliant evocation of a scandal that shook the court of Louis XIV. With witchcraft, love, jealousy, the French royals made it just as exciting as the Tudors, and Braithwaite makes you feel you were in their midst. A great new voice in historical fiction.
Gripping! Based on meticulous research, Kate Braithwaite’s masterful historical fiction Charlatan transports readers back through time to the 17th century, to witness the intrigue and politics of French nobility and society. Its vivid portrayal of the triumphs and trials of daily life are sure to capture readers’ hearts and minds.
This book has a dark beginning that sets the scene for an extraordinary tale, played out behind the opulence and glamour of the court of Louis XIV in the late 1600’s, where wife, mistress, lover and children (legitimate and not) play the daily carousel around the Sun King.
Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan, has been Louis’s favoured mistress long enough to bear him seven children, but the King’s eyes are now on another. What lengths will she go to, to keep his affections, and is her position in court really worth the journey into the underground world of the fortune-teller?
Witchcraft, love potions, spilled blood and sacrifice seem to be commonplace in Paris at the time, but who was involved and who were they trying to help? A lifetime of secrecy and lies seems about to be revealed as Paris arrests fortune-tellers, potion makers and those suspected to be involved in poisonings. Their imprisonment and torture results in many fingers pointing to those at the heart of the court of Louis XIV.
Much of what really happened has been lost over time, but the author has made good use of the mysteries surrounding the facts and cleverly woven her fiction around what is known. It is a gruesome period of history when public executions were events to be seen at and torture of prisoners was commonplace, alongside the desperate conditions of the prisons. All a great contrast to the opulence of life at court. A question I was left with was who really held the power, the King, the mistress or the fortune teller/potion maker?
This book is one for those of you who enjoy gritty historical fiction.
I absolutely loved this book and it hooked me from the start. After having recently watched the BBC TV historical drama Versailles this was the perfect book to keep me going when the series finished. I enjoyed the fact that it focused in on one of the storylines touched upon in the TV series and explored it in much more detail. The writing was so elegantly done that I had to keep to reminding myself it was a book I was reading and not still part of the TV series. 1676. In a hovel in the centre of Paris, the fortune-teller La Voisin holds a black mass, summoning the devil to help an unnamed client keep the love of Louis XIV. Three years later, Athenais, Madame de Montespan, the King's glamorous mistress, is nearly forty. She has borne Louis seven children but now seethes with rage as he falls for eighteen-year old Angelique de Fontanges. At the same time, police chief La Reynie and his young assistant Bezons have uncovered a network of fortune-tellers and prisoners operating in the city. Athenais does not know it, but she is about to be named as a favoured client of the infamous La Voisin. Intrigue, affairs, luxury, scandal and witchcraft all based on historical facts and historical characters, what’s not to love? I could not put it down and will absolutely be looking for more from this author.
An intriguing and engaging historical fiction novel, Which when reading you can tell it has been widely and well researched. The descriptions of Paris and the individual locations in the book are so vivid you can almost touch, hear, and smell them. The characters are well described and you really get the feel of life as the Kings mistresses at the court of Louis XIV, King of France. The dark side of Paris and the world of fortune tellers and poisoners is an interesting angle of court life. You don’t need to be overly into history to enjoy this book, as it’s a great story and a fascinating read and I would recommend it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this well-written, well-researched novel that looks into the Affair of the Poisons during the reign of Louis XIV. Police chief La Reynie conducts an investigation that takes him down a dark path of sorcery, witchcraft, and other unseemly practices hoping to uncover the truth behind the so-called witch La Voisin and a most famous client who has an intimate connection to the King. A history buff, still I hadn’t heard of this case. It was a delight to read and be taken away to another time and place. Great job! Would recommend.
By no means is this my usual read, infact i am very much a contemporary setting kind of reader. But what drew me to this book was the fortune teller as i love the dark side. This book did not disappoint! The twists and turns were so exciting! You fall in love with the characters and hope that the badness doesnt touch them. Found it difficult at times to keep up with who was who due to it being set in France. And it is based on real life people! A cracking read! Five stars!!
A great read about France in the 1600's. This book covers the hunt to uncover witches, Fortune tellers and the like, documenting the methods used to extract confessions and the lies some people would tell to save themselves. The methods of torture used were described in all there brutality. Charlatan gives good descriptions of the way the royal court was and tells the story of real people in history. If you are a fan of historical stories this is an awesome read.
Intriguing historical fiction, well imagined and richly detailed. The story was set in a place and period of time that I knew very little about, and I think it says lot about this book that reading it has made me want to know more about this time. An engrossing plot with lots of tension, interesting characters, and dialogue that reads as if you are in the same room, this was a much enjoyed book.
Enjoyable read, told from the point of view of two sets of people, one set courtiers at the Royal Court and the other set prisoners charged with crimes against the king. I love historical fiction but haven't read any before about foreign kings and queen, this book set in France was a good one to go with I believe. I would definitely like to read more about French history now after reading this.
An interesting read about a part of history.. French history.. that I wasn't familiar with. The palace intrigues of the court of King Louis and the conspiracies by his women to retain what belonged to them made for fascinating reading. Athenais was an interesting character who pulled me into her story.
An incredibly absorbing and well-researched historical novel based on the scandalous Affair of the Poisons set during the reign of King Louis XIV. Kate Braithwaite brings this real-life tale of intrigue and sorcery to life with vivid details and beautifully drawn characters, especially the fascinating Madame de Montespan.
I have a feeling this is me, as all other reviews are good but I did not enjoy this book. I had a heck of a time getting into it, the beginning is dense, full of unnecessary names, and took far to much effort to understand. I stuck with it hoping it would get better, at least for me it didn't. It did get easier to follow after about half way, but it remained flat without a lot of redeeming qualities.
With vivid descriptions of the glamour and opulence of 17th century France, author Kate Braithwaite has written an impressive novel that brings her readers into King Louis XIV's court. It is a place filled with deception, carrying favour, scandal and intrigue. When new revelations come to light concerning the use of Dark magic, panic ensues within the court as certain people are threatened to be prosecuted for witchcraft.
Police attempt to figure out who is dabbling in the Dark Arts and will not stop at mere interrogations but have resorted to torture and even public executions in order to remove any suspicion or threat of sorcery from the king's court. When they focus their investigation on Catherine Montvoisin, a woman known for providing Dark solutions, it has a rippling effect among not only the nobility but those further down the social food chain.
This is a time of greed, corruption and climbing the social ladder where being in or out of favour with the King of France brings different kinds of danger. There is mystery, intrigue, sinister plots and a rather large group of characters. The story lines are reasonably intricate without being too fussy or overly verbose but seem to have a rather narrow scope.
At the heart of the book there are two different story lines. One follows Philippe Bezons, the young assistant to the chief of police who is eager to prosecute Montvoisin but not if it puts the woman he loves at risk. The other story line follows Athenais, the aging mistress of the King, who is suspected of using Dark magic to maintain the King's attention. It is her story that I found most compelling and to whom I was most sympathetic.
I will admit that it took me a little bit to get into the story but once it got rolling I was quite engaged. The one criticism I had was that there were so many characters, many of whom are secondary, within the two story lines that it was sometimes difficult to remember the specific traits, history etc of different characters and to keep track of who was who.
Readers will be impressed with the writing in this novel. Braithwaite's writing is so descriptive that you can clearly imagine the beautiful gardens and ornate surroundings of the grand palaces as well as the truly decrepit and fetid conditions of the Chateau de Vincennes, the overpopulated prison where some rather graphic torture takes place.
There is a lot going on in this book but Braithwaite has woven an intriguing story. It is clear that she has done a lot of research on this era. Since I typically don't read much historical fiction centred in France I was pleased to learn that many of the characters in her book were based on real historical figures with a touch of fiction to bring it all together. Might as well learn a little while enjoying a suspenseful read, right?
This is a book that focuses on what people will do in order to achieve their deepest, and sometimes, darkest desires. It's a book about maintaining power at any cost as well as the impact of fear and jealousy. Fans of Jane Johnson (Pillars of Light) and Sally Christie (The Sisters of Versailles) should enjoy this book.
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to author Kate Braithwaite for providing me with a complimentary copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.
Braithwaite's Charlatan is a delightfully raw read that gets under your skin. One of the King's mistresses, Athenais, is aging and he's preferring fresher flesh. She is desperate to win back the affections of her King, for the welfare of her many children. When she is introduced to the world of witchcraft, she thinks she's dabbling with harmless love potions. But she finds herself at the centre of a scandal so dark it stands to jeopordise everything she has built with the King. The novel holds the reader captive from the very first page and Braithwaite is a master of language and suspense. Charlatan is a wonderful novel, full of mystery and intrigue, that takes the reader on a fascinating journey through black masses, politics, witchery and the downfalls of trying to capture someone's heart forever.
Dark, intricate tale of sorcery and witchcraft set in 17th century France.
Kate Braithwaite's CHARLATAN is brimming with intrique, power, mystique. There's more.
Scandal. Panic. Fortune tellers. Scheming woman. Love affairs. Prisoners in dungeons.
It's dark, intricate plotting, well-developed characters will pull you in and not let you go even when you're taken on a bumpy journey in a royal carriage down rutted roads to the execution pyre. You'll feel the heat, your nose will singe with the scent of burning flesh and hair; you'll hear the guttural screams and wonder how human nature could be so cruel.
Not being a huge French history connoisseur, I found Kate Braithwaite's historical depth impressive, her writing highly sensory (there was a time I had to sit the book down it 'got' to me so much), and the braiding of two plot lines impeccable.
The story centers around Athenais, King Louis XIV's glamorous mistress and mother to seven of his children. Athenais has left her older two children and husband to play this part for the king. She lives at Versailles in a well-appointed apartment, but has grown older and more plump. She worries she won't be able to keep the love of the king.
And she would be right.
Together, with her sister, Gabrielle, they scheme and wheedle ways to keep the King within arms length. Their methods are manipulative at best, witchcraft-y at worst.
Meanwhile, police chief La Reynie and his new/young assistant Bezons have uncovered a network of fortune-tellers and poisoners operating in the city. Inquisitions ensue. Trauma and torture, too.
Braithwaite handles these measures in a way that stimulates and brings forth sensory details, but in a way that is not overly trite. Still, there are moments when a squeamish reader may have to pause for breath. Literally.
At times, I became a little confused as to who's who...but that's probably just me; French names and titles started blending together. I applaud Ms. Braithwaite's use of historical sequences in crafting this fictional account of what might have happened, allowing me a glimpse into the royal happening of 17th century France.
For all of my reviews, including author interviews, please see: www.leslielindsay.com I am grateful to the author and her publisher for this review copy. All thoughts are my own.