I quickly fell in love with Gulland's lively depiction of seventeenth century France and Louise "Petite" de la Vallière. For the first half of the novel, I received a brilliant glimpse into the life of the daughter of an impoverished nobleman and her ascension in the court of Louis XIV. Aspects I enjoyed: Petite's love of reading, her struggles with her mother and manoeuvring through the intrigue of court, and her time spent in the convent when she was a girl. My favourite part was her internal conflict regarding her love for Louis and her devotion to God. Louis XIV was a monarch who ruled by divine right--loving him is loving God, even if it does mean being a mistress instead of a wife. Maybe. Petite certainly struggles to come to terms with this paradox.
Unfortunately, I found the second half of the novel did not live up to the promise of the first. It slowed down, and Petite's moral compass began to wobble. As a young girl, she was headstrong and decisive. As she aged, she allowed events to guide her more than the other way around. Petite's descent into apathy made her feel lifeless even before she died. I lost interest in the story.
Overall, it was an entertaining book up until the end, which was lacking.