For every Dauphin a D’Artagnan, and for every Sun King a monster in the attic. Thus Koen’s (Dark Angels, 2006, etc.) Bourbon-laced exploration of a tangled time in the French past.
Louis XIV was, famously, a strong believer in the divine right of kings—the right, that is to say, to do pretty much whatever they wanted to. In the case of this book, one of those things is to consolidate power in the wake of the all-too-welcome death of his father’s confidant and advisor, and now his, the Cardinal Mazarin, who lived a decidedly unchurchly life: “Reviled, feared, obeyed, Cardinal Mazarin was the most powerful man in the kingdom of France, first minister to the young king and lover, it was said, to the queen mother.” Another of those things is to sow a few wild oats, for Louis is still in his early 20s, though complicatedly married. Thus his dalliance with oo-la-la bumpkin Louise de la Baume le Blanc, which, to the delight of mademoiselle and roi alike, gets all hot and heavy: “The chemise was gone; she had no idea how, and he touched her breasts, and she closed her eyes.” Louis pleases Louise, apparently, for she now thinks of him as “a demigod, not only to her, but to all the kingdom.” But Louis, attentive though he may be, has bigger fish to fry, among them the quest to discover the identity of the weird kid in the iron mask who keeps turning up outside the city walls, as well as to crush another advisor for various effronteries and audacities. All in a day’s work for a king, but sometimes not easy for Koen to package neatly, since the exposition is often clumsy, as when she explains what the heck a dauphin is, anyway. That said, it’s a story that pretty well tells itself, largely based on historical fact, and with departures from the historically known that don’t seem too outlandish, iron mask and all.
A step up from the usual genre romance, but only just; a literal bodice-ripper, and with swordplay, too.