The French Revolution is a well known part of history: the decadence of the French royal court, the downtrodden lower class, and a revolutionary movement that would change the entire government of France. However, it is very rare to find an impartial commentary on the French Revolution, historians tend to side with the side of the revolutionaries. We have even adopted the period into our slang: the term “Bougie” is a reference to the word bourgeois, or middle class: a person who is from money, or a snob.
The Wardrobe Mistress by Meghan Masterson tells the story of the revolution from the perspective of Giselle Aubry, undertire woman to the queen. The niece of a spy, upon her arrival in court Giselle is convinced to report the queen’s movements to her Uncle, so that he can relive his time in the spy ring secret du roi, a throwback to the time of King Louis XV. From this position Giselle is able to see both sides of the war: the revolutionaries who will one day overcome the royal family, and the royalists that support the king and queen. As an undertirewoman, Giselle also meets and falls in love with the watchmaker Leon Gauvain. Theirs is an intense passion, that burns only brighter as the war progresses.
Told in the first person, Giselle’s voice was well suited to her character: practical and straightforward, punctuated with delicate flourishes. It was not a blooming bouquet of eloquence, yet it was not a stark portrait of the period either. Rather it is the sort of writing that draws you in and keeps you reading.
The characters for the most part were straightforward, there were some surprises tucked in but those well read within the historical romance genre will be able to pick out the familiar tropes. The thing I appreciated most was the unbiased look into the period at hand. Giselle was able to paint Marie Antoinette in a humanistic light, with her own weaknesses and charms. No one is a monster, and The Wardrobe Mistress teaches that in everything there are several shades of gray, versus the black and white portraits that the textbooks tend to paint in.
This book is perfect for those who love reading about royals, those looking for a good love story, or for those looking to escape. Looking for something similar? The Cardinal’s Man takes place a century before the revolution, and in his book Sinclair does a good job of illustrating the roots of the French Revolution in the lower class unrest which would boil over a century later. Historical fiction meets Tyrion Lanister.
*Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and author for providing me with a free copy in exchange for a honest review. All opinions stated here are my own.