Claudette grew up in a theatrical family, her parents formerly players in a Parisian troupe. The world they live in is one very divisive between the nobility & religion vs actors & theatre. Through some chance encounters spanning many years, Claudette meets Athénaïs, a girl from a noble family who affects her life more than she will have realized upon their first meeting. Years down the line, she finds herself in this young lady’s service and discovers that the glitz and glamour of the nobility are not all that different from the many facades one puts on in the theatre world.
How quickly I got fully immersed in this world that Gulland has depicted, with life in the 1800s through the eyes of a young girl growing up around so many trials and tribulations. Having a fondness and interest for theatre myself, the life that Claudette and her family experience and showcasing the new ways that plays were being staged was so interesting to read about. The Shadow Queen is a great coming of age tale, paced so well to allow for the characters to fully develop and discover their lives as it is unfolding around them. It’s heartwarming to watch as Claudette pushes through life, facing head on whatever is thrown at her. I found it a wonder with the nature of Claudette and Athénaïs’ companionship – which was peculiar at times. I suppose they both wished for a life the other had, at times, and that could cloud ones’ judgement and feelings. Understanding that Claudette is the protagonist, I still found that there could have been more explained with Athénaïs, especially since the title seems to refer to Athénaïs rather than Claudette. She had some moments that provoked the reader’s curiosity yet nothing more was mentioned of it. I definitely would have liked to know a bit more about her thoughts and motivations as well.
Truly, it was not until the very end where I read the author’s notes that I realized these were based on real people in history. I love stories like this all the more, where authors are able to take actual people’s stories and spin them in a way that reads like a well-told tale and not a biographical entry in an encyclopedia. The Shadow Queen is a fantastic historical fiction novel, with a easy flow to the narrative. There are many historical novels that seem muddied with too much lyrical prose that it feels hard to follow and that is not the case with this book.