by Kelly Gardiner
Versailles, 1686: Julie d’Aubigny, a striking young girl taught to fence and fight in the court of the Sun King, is taken as mistress by the King’s Master of Horse. Tempestuous, swashbuckling and volatile, within two years she has run away with her fencing master, fallen in love with a nun and is hiding from the authorities, sentenced to be burnt at the stake. Within another year, she has become Mademoiselle de Maupin, a beloved star at the famed Paris Opéra. Her lovers include some of Europe’s most powerful men and France’s most beautiful women. Yet Julie is destined to die alone in a convent at the age of 33.
Based on an extraordinary true story, this is an original, dazzling and witty novel – a compelling portrait of an unforgettable woman.
Sadly, this book took me a lot longer to read than I ever planned. I was so excited due to the fact it’s about one of my favourite historical figures – someone I learned about like some many others, from the badass of the week. As the author said at the end of the book, Julie’s story is one that has been told again and again, there is no right or wrong way to tell it. So the story of the book and the things that people know are both right and wrong, because not every story is true or false. Does she marry the mysterious nun she loves? Does she kill people or does she only wound? It’s possible, but this book doesn’t always follow the story we might think we know.
The first half of this book was a bit slow. I had a really hard time getting into it. I’m not overly sure if it was the writing style or if it was simply because I wasn’t in the mood for historical fiction at that moment. The writing style IS a bit different. We are told part of the tale by Julie as she lays dying in a convent. But then, we go back to that time and watch her live through her life. There’s a lot of skipping about, only small glimpses of her life seen. This does tend to be one of my biggest struggles with books when they do this. So there’s a good chance this and some slowness with the story had made me put it down until last week, where I picked it up again and was able to push through until the end of the story.
I WAS able to get to the story telling with the skipping in this case. For once, I felt it didn’t skip important pieces that can some times happen with skipping. Instead, I felt the author actually did a good job at capturing the important parts and skipping forward once more. However – my one main issue was I wished the author had spent more time on the lovers that made such a huge impact on Julie’s life. IE, Clara. I felt as if some of her female loves weren’t given the same attention for being her true loves as some of the men she slept with and might have felt a little something with that got talked about again and again. However, that might be because these loves tended to be cut short for Julie compared to the friendships of these men.
I loved the sass and snark of the older Julie as she tells her story to you. She isn’t afraid to mince words, to give the ‘father’ she’s telling her story to a hard time. It lightens some darker moments. It made me laugh more than once. I felt like the author did a pretty great job of capturing the spirit of her, the spirit you expect a woman who is the best swordmens of her age, who dared to be with women and men without much of a thought and dressed as man as she pleased. I can’t imagine it being any other way. It also helps through some of the darker moments of her short life. It helps ease some of that pain of reading it. I’m also happy though that the author kept her bi. It was a fear that this wouldn’t end up being the case. It would have been so easy to just erase it from her story. It happens all the time in these stories. But thankfully, she stays bi. She loves her men and women. Maybe her true loves in this were more likely women, but she still loved men in her own way.
Rating – 3 stars