Before France had the Revolution, they had the Affair of the Poisons. If you don’t know anything about it, look it up. It is wild. Lovers poisoning potential rivals, heirs poisoning their heads of family, wives poisoning their husbands, husbands poisoning their wives, and everyone and their second cousin dabbling in Satanism to make them lucky in love/politics/business/gambling/whatever. It’s entirely possible that if no one had intervened, the Revolution would have been moot as the entire French aristocracy would quite probably have poisoned each other to near extinction.
Riley shows us her meticulously researched version of the Affair through the eyes of Genevieve Pasquier, who takes up fortunetelling under a pseudonym to support herself after super cliché events involving murder, a missing inheritance, and rape force her to leave home. At the tender age of fifteen, she apprentices to the Shadow Queen, the foremost witch in Paris, and becomes the Marquise de Morville, an alleged 150-year-old victim of alchemical experimentation who reads fortunes in an oracle glass.
She’s so good at playing an old woman that it’s easy to forget she’s a teenager—until she abandons her maturity and independence to throw herself at a man, ignoring her own common sense and the advice of others in favor of following her heart (and by “heart” I mean “hormones”). And that’s fine and dandy and makes sense and all, but I just cringed all the way through her love affairs. I’m a hard sell on romance, and in this case I wasn’t inclined to buy.
The best/worst part of this book is all that meticulous research that went into it. It’s the best because almost all the details feel authentic. It’s the worst because it seems Riley was intent on not leaving anything out, and some of those authentic details didn’t really add to the story. The story itself drags, as Genevieve seems to forget she’s doing it all for revenge against her horrible family and has to remind herself and the reader what her motivations are.
TL;DR, it’s not bad but it’s not quite my cuppa. Not being much of a romantic, I thought there was too much pining and not enough actual poisoning in this particular Affair of the Poisons.