The Shadows of Versailles

Written by Cathie Dunn
Review by Fiona Alison

The Shadows of Versailles is set during the reign of Louis XIV in the 17th century. Seventeen-year-old Blanchefleur de La Fontaine is seduced by a minor nobleman, whilst her vindictive mother does little to aid her naivete. When she realizes she is with child, she is bustled off to a convent where she is harshly treated by the nuns. Jacques de Montagnac is a police spy investigating the disappearance of babies and possible connections with Black Masses. While Jacques is making enquiries at the convent regarding the missing babies, he crosses paths with Fleur and rescues her, but her baby has been forcibly taken away. Her subsequent desire for revenge becomes the guiding force in her life and, after their paths diverge, Jacques suspects that Fleur is not the naïve innocent he once thought.

The ‘Affair of the Poisons’ was a scandalous time in French history, occurring between 1677 and 1682, when members of the aristocracy were implicated in nefarious dealings, reaching as high as Louis’ court. Dunn mixes her fictional characters with historical figures, creating an authenticity of time and place. Unfortunately, most of the characters are quite despicable, and it is hard to connect with them or fathom their reasoning. They are vengeful, remorseless and unrelentingly cruel, and there are few redeeming features to be found. Some fairly key characters peter out without a sense of completion, and the ending is somewhat predictable, if only because there can be no other. Motivations for those who support Fleur’s return to aristocratic life aren’t fully fleshed out, giving a sense of incompleteness to the story. Some of these loose ends may be tidied up in the second book, which continues Jacques’ pursuit of justice.