We’ve got a copy of Sandra’s new novel, THE SHADOW QUEEN, up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.
The first stage of writing a novel is exploratory: imagining scenes and characters, imagining the arc of the narrative. Exploring a character, for me, often begins with finding an image. I write biographical historical fiction—my characters are based on real people—so I often have portraits to go by.
However, the main character of my novel The Shadow Queen, Claude des Oeillets (dit Claudette), was part of the theater world before she became lady’s maid to the Sun King’s mistress. I searched for a portrait, but could find nothing. That was understandable, I thought—Claudette was a maid, not nobility—so I put together a picture composite of my own.
Here, from morguefile.com, an excellent site for character browsing, is the image that fit how I imagined Claudette as a scrappy young woman. (Far left, below. It’s a photo of a young man, but Claudette is boyish.)
For Claudette in her later years, at Court, I chose this painting by Rossetti. I was surprised to see how similar the two faces were: the flying brows, the pouty lips. (Second left, below)
And then, years later, came publication. I was enchanted with the cover of The Shadow Queen and tweeted about it. Amazingly, someone sent me a tweet with a link to a portrait of Claudette. (Center, below)
A portrait of my Claudette! In the years I had been writing The Shadow Queen, more had come available on the Net. And then, with another shock, I realied how very much the woman on the cover of The Shadow Queen looked like the actual portrait of Claudette . . .
Plus, she had the same brow, the same pouty lips as in the two images I had collected years before.
Was there an explanation? I checked with Doubleday, but the cover designer had no knowledge of this portrait of Claudette. It remains just a little mystical to me . . .
* * *
From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.
Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother’s astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she’s socially scorned.
A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning “Shadow Queen.” Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.
Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king’s bed.
Indeed, Claudette’s “reputable” new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King’s favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.
Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France.