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Mystery writer Law (Death Under Par, etc.), whose characters and narration have been punchier than her plotting, here takes a highly successful, shrewdly peopled and bemused view of that most glittery and lunatic of historical power plays: the competition among highly placed ladies of King Louis XIV's court to have and hold the prime favors of the monarch--a kind of 17th-century Women's Open. Law follows the soaring and dipping fortunes of Athenais, the Marquise of Montespan, the King's official mistress for over a decade, whose influence ended with a witchcraft scandal and the King's increasing attacks of religiosity. At 21, Athenais finally shook loose from her husband's moldering, provincial chateau and joined her sister in Paris. At Court she attached herself to both the King's current favorite, timid Louise, and the thunderingly dull Queen. Exhilarated by ""the bustle of the court at high tide,"" beautiful, witty Athenais responds with kindness and affection, but there's that electric thrill of possibility--toward wealth and power and the animal vigor of a virile sovereign. And why not help matters along with a bit of sorcery (into which she's goaded by a dissolute comtesse)? The ""witch"" who dispenses love potions and stages perverted masses is that demure matron, Mme. Voisin, who will die at the stake without naming the name that high-ranking investigators dread to hear. ""There is some honor in all professions,"" declares the doomed witch, who like Law's other fine creation here, Athenais' maid Claude, barnacles herself to the great; but unlike Mme. Voisin, Claude knows how to swim away. At the last, Athenais will view her future of ""polite neglect"" within the Court (with its ""tedium"" of joy) as the hard work of artifice. A bright sketch of a self-poisoning society, and an imaginative reshaping of the ""gilded prison"" of a court, with its glory and cruelty, where both the brainy and the vacuous were ""caught as surely as flies in honey.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1986
ISBN: 1583487301
Publisher: St. Martin's