This is the story of Claude des Oeillets called Claudette who relates her life story beginning with her youth as a poor traveling player (actress) wandering the French countryside with her parents and mentally disabled brother, Gaston. It's interesting to learn about early days of theater, the theater wars and the famous playwrights like Pierre Corneille, who was a mentor to her performing parents. Settings and infighting combine with vivid scenes and outstanding descriptions. Playwrights compete to receive an endowment and recognition from the crown. For example, there is fierce rivalry between Corneille and MoliÃ¨re who work for opposing theaters.
Chance encounters with Athenais de Montespan lead to a new life for Claudette beyond the theater. Drawn to each other, the two almost become friends. When Athenais finds she can tell Claudette what she cannot share with others, she asks her to become her confidant and servant. Becoming acquainted with Athenais, we view her as an adventurous young woman who changes into an ambitious woman seeking power. When Louise de la Valliere, Louis' first mistress, becomes ill with what was probably multiple sclerosis, Louis turns to Athenais, a lady in waiting to Louise. It's the chance she has been waiting for but as time passes, Athenais exhibits a tempestuous nature. Terrible temper tantrums and fierce jealousy mar her relations within the court. She turns to using potions to strengthen the king's love for her because of a fear that a younger, more beautiful competitor will replace her.
Long a mistress of Louis XIV of France, Athenais became as powerful as a queen. Thus the title, [book:The Shadow Queen|22812821]. There is a poison scandal in which both Athenais and Claudette are implicated and growth of the influence of the Catholic Church which depricates both players and the theater. It's a fascinating portrait of royalty, the theater, and life during the period. which the author outstandingly blends into a most enjoyable read.