Having spent the last few months reading non-fiction works about the 1660s, I found Cardinal Mazarin and the influence he wielded over a young Louis XIV, featured strongly. Thus, the premise of this book, The Enchantress of Paris, by Marci Jefferson, which is ostensibly about Marie Mancini, one of the beautiful and clever nieces – known as the Mazarinettes – of the ambitious and ruthless cardinal, captured my imagination.
Initially overlooked in favour of her bolder sisters, Marie, a clever, witty and all together charming young woman, bides her time. It’s time that works in her favour as she slowly but most assuredly, captures first the attention, then the heart of King Louis, and gradually begins to control much of what occurs in the Sun-King’s court.
Educated, kind and loving but at the whim of her ambitious uncle, Marie tries to resist his orders regarding the manipulation of the king, preferring instead to appeal to Louis’s heart and head. Eschewing not just her uncle’s increasingly harsher demands and punishments, and her abilities with black magic, Marie chooses to rely on her undeniable attractions to influence the man she loves – her intellect and good heart.
While Marie wants nothing more than to have Louis for herself and all that entails, her greatest ambition is to free him from her uncle’s manipulative clutches. But Louis is young, untested and has, like his mother, relied upon the cardinal since birth. With war threatening and offers of peace coming with bride-caveats, can young, lovely Marie succeed in freeing Louis from her uncle’s control where others have not only failed, but died trying?
This isn’t usually the kind of book I like in that, though I love historical fiction, I find ones that are all about unrequited passion and endless declarations of love, long looks, sighs, teary reunions etc. especially among the nobility and royalty quite tiresome. Much to my surprise, though this novel is filled with these, I found it difficult to put down and was curious as to how far young Marie would succeed in her quest to wrest the king away from those who would control him for their own ends. Familiar with some of the history, the role of the Mazarinettes, as court ornaments, as assets for their uncle to use in an endless political game, and the relationship between Marie and Louis was largely unknown, and the historical research Jefferson has done is nicely woven into this tale of passion, freedom, regret, promises, deceit and power.
Marie, as a character, is rounded and complex. Understanding the role she’s destined to play as a pawn in a larger game, she nonetheless allows herself to dream, keeps her ethics and sense of self, and maintains an optimism that’s both endearing and frustrating. Louis is less interesting and, I think, because he’s more familiar to history buffs, unable to be drawn except with recognisable strokes. The relationship between the king and Marie is at the core of the story – a story that’s also about liberty and the pursuit of that whether it be a king or a second-class citizen in the form of a noble woman desiring it. It’s also about power and how even those deemed powerless can find passive and lasting ways to exert their authority and with lasting consequences.
For those who love a strong romantic novel and have a passion for well-fictionalised history and anything to do with the Sun King, this is a book you can lose yourself in. So long as you don’t mind endless protestations of amor and adoration!