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Title: The School of Mirrors
Author: Eva Stachniak
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: February 22, 2022
Page Count: 401
My rating: 3 stars
About the book:
A scintillating, gorgeously written historical novel about a mother and a daughter in eighteenth-century France, beginning with decadence and palace intrigue at Versailles and ending in an explosive new era of revolution.
During the reign of Louis XV, impoverished but lovely teenage girls from all over France are sent to a discreet villa in the town of Versailles. Overseen by the King’s favorite mistress, Madame de Pompadour, they will be trained as potential courtesans for the King. When the time is right, each girl is smuggled into the palace of Versailles, with its legendary Hall of Mirrors. There they meet a mysterious but splendidly dressed man who they’re told is merely a Polish count, a cousin of the Queen. Living an indulgent life of silk gowns, delicious meals, and soft beds, the students at this “school of mirrors” rarely ask questions, and when Louis tires of them, they are married off to minor aristocrats or allowed to retire to one of the more luxurious nunneries.
Beautiful and canny Veronique arrives at the school of mirrors and quickly becomes a favorite of the King. But when she discovers her lover’s true identity, she is whisked away, sent to give birth to a daughter in secret, and then to marry a wealthy Breton merchant. There is no return to the School of Mirrors.
This is also the story of the King’s daughter by Veronique—Marie-Louise. Well-provided for in a comfortable home, Marie-Louise has never known her mother, let alone her father. Capable and intelligent, she discovers a passion for healing and science, and becomes an accredited midwife, one of the few reputable careers for women like her. But eventually Veronique comes back into her daughter’s life, bringing with her the secret of Marie-Louise’s birth. But the new King—Louis XVI—is teetering on his throne and it’s a volatile time in France…and those with royal relatives must mind their step very carefully.
The School of Mirrors by Eva Stachniak is a historical fiction novel that is based on real world events. The story in The School of Mirrors is one that is told by changing the point of view between the characters to give all sides of the story.
This novel is one that spans several decades in 18th century France beginning in Versailles in 1755 with Veronique Roux who is still a child at thirteen years old. A man arranges for Veronique to go into service thinking she will be trained to be a maid, instead Veronique is groomed to become one of King Louis XV mistresses.
Veronique has no idea who the man is that threatens her virtue when she is sent to him but is told it is a Polish count. After Veronique is with child she is taken away to have the baby and offered a marriage when her child is taken away. The only thing Veronique knows about her little girl was she was to become Marie-Louise.
The School of Mirrors by Eva Stachniak is a novel that is not going to be for everyone as the events happening definitely deserve a trigger warning as in this time it is nothing but child abuse The 18th century was certainly a different time and young girls were married off at a very young age and this brought to life events that we certainly wouldn’t tolerate these days. The story spans from 1755 to 1793 and was a very slow burner which isn’t my favorite style but overall it did hold my interest more and more as it went along leaving this one at three stars for me when finished.
I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.
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About the author:
EVA STACHNIAK was born in Wroclaw, Poland, arriving in Canada in 1981 on an English scholarship to McGill University. Her first short story, “Marble Heroes,” was published by the Antigonish Review in the summer of 1994, and her debut novel, Necessary Lies, won the Amazon.com/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2000. Her fiction is the result of her fascination with the ways history and culture shape our lives. Eva Stachniak lives in Toronto.