Eva Stachniak, "The School of Mirrors" (William Morrow, 2022)


France in 1755 is a country of extremes. The streets of Paris are filled with the poor and downtrodden, whereas just a few miles away lies the Palace of Versailles, with its renowned Hall of Mirrors where courtiers under the eye of Louis XV while away the hours amid endless extravagance. Once known as Louis the Well-Loved, the king has steadily lost ground with his people, and even his long-term relationship with Madame de Pompadour has entered a new phase. To retain her power and appeal to the king’s changing appetites, Madame enlists the help of Dominic-Guillaume Lebel, Louis’s valet de chambre. He sets up a school in Deer Park (le Parc des Cerfs), near the palace, where carefully selected thirteen- and fourteen-year-old girls from poor families can master basic literacy, painting, music, dance, embroidery, manners, and court protocol. Those who succeed in pleasing the king leave with a dowry and an income for life. Even those who fail receive some kind of financial settlement.

Véronique Roux, a printer’s daughter fallen on hard times, enters the school and does well—until a chance remark leads to her hasty dismissal. Years later, a little girl named Marie-Louise—who we know from the book jacket is Véronique’s daughter, sired by the king and wrenched from her mother at birth—is summoned to Versailles and turned over to two of Madame de Pompadour’s servants for her education. Marie-Louise wants nothing more than to find the parents who abandoned her, without knowing who they are, and through her story we see the connections of Louis XV’s failures as a ruler and how they lead to the French Revolution in 1789.

In The School of Mirrors (William Morrow, 2022), Eva Stachniak takes the element of the real-life school at Deer Park and builds it, through the fictional characters of Véronique and Marie-Louise, into a powerful indictment of both a monarchy in decline and the radicals who sought to overthrow it at all costs, even when their initial idealism caused them to turn against one another.

Eva Stachniak is the author of two novels about Catherine the Great, The Winter Palace and Empress of the Night, and four other works.

C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and three other novels. Her latest novel, Song of the Sinner, appeared in January 2022.

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C. P. Lesley

C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and four other novels. Her latest book, The Merchant's Tale, co-written with P.K. Adams, appeared in November 2023.

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