Title: The Orange Grove
Author: Kate Murdoch
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Published: 11th October 2019
Synopsis: Blois, 1705. The château of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue. Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the château with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies. The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in love and domestic politics strive for supremacy.
In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.
Set almost nine decades before the French Revolution and the beheading of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, The Orange Grove explores the intricacies and relationships of powerplay at a court like Versailles in 1705, as a duc takes on yet another mistress, as well as his wife, Charlotte. Charlotte, his wife, and his mistresses are aware of each other, and how they can fall in and out of favour with the duc.
When a young mistress falls pregnant, Charlotte, the duc’s wife and the one who is supposed to be producing him legitimate male heirs (but has thus far failed to do so and has her own secrets bubbling along throughout the novel that are cleverly revealed slowly), she asks another mistress, Henriette, to choose her loyalties – Charlotte, or the mistresses?
Soon, Romain de Villiers, a tarot reader arrives, and more tensions and political intrigue enter as he finds himself drawn to Charlotte, and the implications that this, and the whispers of witchcraft bring to the palace and its domestic politics as people try to keep secrets and favour.
Cleverly built around early eighteenth century gender politics, domestic politics and fears of the unknown and keeping up appearances, The Orange Grove looks at life and death, and the importance of status, and how even the slightest indiscretion can flip the narrative for anyone, and alter their lives in ways that they never thought possible, whilst coming to conclusions that were not quite expected.
Most historical fiction novels focus on a big event, through the eyes of specific characters, yet this one focuses on a very tight, and deeply complicated chateau in France during the years of the ruling aristocracy, and the privileges they enjoyed and could exercise over whomever they wished, tossing people away and punishing them in ways that these days seem a bit extreme, yet made sense in the context and understandings of the world these people inhabited. These characters are all flawed – none are wholly good nor are they wholly evil. They are ruled by human emotions of love, desperation and self-preservation, which makes this a very interesting novel as we get to see how people respond to certain conditions and the lengths they will go to so they can save themselves – sometimes with disastrous consequences.