In this sweeping historical novel of 17th century France, the wrath and power of Louis XIV are felt all the way to Keltic Brittany near the Bay of the Dead. Born into the peasant culture, a mixture of ancient pagan beliefs mixed with Catholicism, is the girl Anna, a bastard looking like no one in her parish - her mother would not tell who her father was. Taught the use of herbs by the women of her family, she also has the gift of healing - a power also attributed to French and English kings who were said to heal scrofula with their touch. This ability will cause one man, a physician, to attempt to use her for his own glorification, and another, a Jesuit, to work to send her to a fiery death. But first, she is caught up in the Breton peasant rebellion of 1675, when a people rose up against the punishing taxes of the French king and local nobles after years of hunger and failed crops. It is the consequence of the violence and retribution by the French that set the wheels of her destiny in motion. After learning first-hand about her healing touch, a young physician, Luc de St. Connec, purchases Anna her from her family and carries her to the chateau of a relative on the French border. To conceal his motive, he creates a new identity for her -- she is his cousin Anne de St. Nolf, stolen away by her peasant nurse as an infant and in need of being taught French and the graces that accompany her birthright. At the chateau she becomes the companion of Marie Angélique de Scoraille, the demoiselle Fontanges, destined to become Louis XIV's last and tragically short-lived mistress. But Anne has a secret Luc has yet to discover, which will change him from her exploiter to her protector. Paris and the court of Monsieur, brother to the King, beckon. To gain an appointment at court, St. Connec abjures his Huguenot religion and embraces Catholicism, an act of conscience he will later regret as the King, edict by edict, suppresses the freedom to practice Protestantism in France. In Paris, St. Connec renews his friendship with the English diplomat and spy John Keyes, whom he'd met in Brittany and knows of Anne's origin. Their friendship is challenged by their growing love for Anne, a love they deny to each other and to themselves. In 1680, the Affair of Poisons takes Paris by storm, and during a three-year period many are tried as blasphemers and poisoners (with the implicit understanding that they are also witches). Many are burned at the stake. The poison investigations implicate the King's longtime mistress, Madame de Montespan, mother of five of his children. Assisted in conspiracy by the lieutenant-general of the Paris police, Louis XIV begins one of the great cover-ups of French history, determined that no word of La Montespan's possible involvement will leak out to make him an object of ridicule or to endanger her. Anne is implicated in the affair of poisons, endangering herself and the men who love her. Researched and written over an eight-year period, the author commented. "I like to think that one can learn history from my novels, and enjoy a good yarn at the same time. Peasants weren't dullards. We're all descended from peasants if we go back far enough. Theirs was an oral culture, full of colorful language, practical knowledge, myth and superstition. The aristocracy of France wasn't above superstition itself." This is a long story, so if you are a reader who likes to immerse yourself for days into a different time and place, observe historical figures in their proper milieu like a ghost at a banquet, and follow the destinies of charming, romantic, ambitious, but flawed characters during a time of French splendor and court intrigue, religious persecution, conspicuous consumption, assassination, torture and fiery executions, brandings and life sentences as galley slaves, you will enjoy this novel.
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Karen Charbonneau lives and writes on sixty-six wooded acres in north Idaho.
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