CHARLATAN is based on the Affair of the Poisons that scandalized Paris in 1679.
In a hovel in the centre of Paris, the fortune-teller La Voisin holds a black mass, summoning the devil to help an unnamed client keep the love of Louis XIV.
Three years later, Athenais, Madame de Montespan, the King’s glamorous mistress, is nearly forty. She has borne Louis seven children but now seethes with rage as he falls for eighteen-year old Angelique de Fontanges.
At the same time, police chief La Reynie and his young assistant Bezons have uncovered a network of fortune-tellers and prisoners operating in the city. Athenais does not know it, but she is about to be named as a favoured client of the infamous La Voisin.
Charlatan is an enthralling work of historical fiction set in the late 1600s in France. From a black mass held in the centre of Paris to the opulence of the court of Versailles, a story – part intrigue, part drama – unfolds that has the reader turning the pages on the edge of her seat.
What motivates an author to write historical fiction? The telling of stories untold? A revisioning of the past? Retrospective justice? Charlatan is all these and more. Told in richly descriptive and highly engaging prose, the work portrays in vivid details the torture, hangings and burnings of witches and their accomplices, including numerous priests. The author clearly knows her subject, the work as much informative as it is entertaining. Told from three points of view – the King’s mistress, the investigating police officer, the priest – Charlatan provides a fascinating insight into the occult underworld of Paris, its popularity, its secrecy, and the various motivations of those involved.
The premise of the story is the limitations of justice in a system riven by poverty and privilege, and it is a theme that plays out perfectly through masterful storytelling. The dialogue is impeccable and the pace never falters, the various storylines carefully woven into a seamless whole. Charlatan makes for confronting reading at times, but it’s all the stronger for not shying from the realities of the times. With Charlatan, Braithwaite makes a valuable contribution to raising awareness of a controversial subject.