In 17th century Paris, everyone has something to hide. But for the Baroness Marie Catherine, the only thing she wishes to hide is how unhappy she is in her marriage, and the pleasures she seeks outside of it. When her husband is present, the Baroness spends her days tending to her children. But when he's gone, Marie Catherine indulges in a more liberated existence. And at the center of her freedom: Victoire Rose de Bourbon, Mademoiselle de Conti, the androgynous, self-assured countess who steals Marie Catherine's heart and becomes her lover.
The affair between the two women leads them down a path of violence and intrigue, themes which are effectively reflected by the fast, steady pace of narration but which overshadow the rich and moody tones beneath.
Bell elegantly balances the passion of a romance with the tension of crime fiction, all while conjuring a Paris rich in sensuous detail. From the first page, she situates the reader in a very specific moment in time without overloading the prose with self-congratulatory evidence of her own research ... An astonishingly accomplished debut that brings a past full of intrigue and ardor to life on the page.
The author excels at creating a hothouse atmosphere in which depravity, sensuality, and duplicity reside side by side, and Marie Catherine’s plight builds in suspense as the noose tightens around her, leading to an ending that turns the novel into a rousing feminist fable.