Émilie is content to sit in her father’s atelier, singing to him as he crafts his violins and cellos. When a composer named Charpentier comes to purchase a violin, he hears Émilie’s extraordinary voice, becomes her teacher, and introduces her to a larger world. Immediately after a successful debut and just as her feelings for her teacher begin to grow, Émilie is whisked away to the court at Versailles by a devious nobleman, lackey of the pious yet cruel Madame de Maintenon, confidante of King Louis XIV. Madame de Maintenon may have the king’s ear, but Madame de Montespan occupies the king’s bed, and naïve, innocent Émilie is powerless to prevent herself from becoming a tool in the war between these two powerful women—a war which could well end in Émilie’s own destruction.
Dunlap has crafted a lyrical and lovely tale, as well as a suspenseful one. Her portrayal of the intrigues at Versailles brings the setting to life, and her depiction of the machinations of the characters that populate the court imbues the atmosphere with palpable menace. At times, this tale seems bursting with villains and short on heroes, but Émilie and Charpentier are both sympathetic characters, and the reader is pulled along as events beyond their control continue to shape their fates. One of the most frightening aspects of this tale, which Dunlap adeptly illustrates, is how the smallest event, such as ruining a pair of shoes, can change lives forever. Dunlap’s forte lies in her description of the music, Émilie’s voice, and the effect Émilie’s remarkable gift has on herself and others. The expressive prose, which is faintly reminiscent of Susan Vreeland, adds depth and charm to the story without detracting from the gripping plot. Recommended.