Poison Priestess (Lady Slayers)

Written by Lana Popovic
Review by John Kachuba

Times are difficult for women of little means in 17th-century France, especially if they are young, poor orphans working in the candle-making sweatshop run by the cruel Monsieur Prudhomme. But 19-year-old Catherine Monvoisin vows to escape her poverty and free herself to build the life she desires. When a supernaturally talented fellow candle-maker mysteriously escapes the factory, she deliberately leaves behind her grimoire for Catherine, whom she recognizes as being gifted with prophetic visions. Catherine is eventually rescued by marriage to a gay Parisian jeweler. He treats her kindly and gives her a life of comfort, but his spendthrift ways soon have them deeply in debt, and Catherine once again finds herself facing poverty.

She begins giving psychic readings to earn money. Her fame as a “divineress” spreads throughout the Parisian underworld, prompting the influential Marquise de Montespan to consult her. The Marquise has been one of King Louis XIV’s courtesans and desires to be his favorite, his official mistress. Without prompting from the Marquise, Catherine divines that the title will, indeed, become the Marquise’s, and when that comes to pass, the impressed Marquise rewards Catherine with a beautiful home and pays off her husband’s debts. But there is a price to be paid; Catherine must become the Marquise’s divineress, subject to her every whim. In this devil’s bargain, Catherine soon finds herself embroiled in court intrigue and jealousies, entanglements that lead to multiple “accidental” murders abetted by her black arts.

This is an interesting novel with an original and engaging plot. Some readers may find it objectionable that justice is not duly served on Catherine, but others will overlook that, recognizing that humans are complicated creatures, none of us purely good nor purely evil.