Review: The School of Mirrors

Title: The School of Mirrors
Author: Eva Stachniak
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
Source: Publisher, Tandem Collective Global
Format: Paperback
Release Date: February 22, 2022
Rating: ★★★★


Goodreads Synopsis:

A scintillating, gorgeously written historical novel about a mother and a daughter in eighteenth-century France, beginning with decadence and palace intrigue at Versailles and ending in an explosive new era of revolution.

During the reign of Louis XV, impoverished but lovely teenage girls from all over France are sent to a discreet villa in the town of Versailles. Overseen by the King’s favorite mistress, Madame de Pompadour, they will be trained as potential courtesans for the King. When the time is right, each girl is smuggled into the palace of Versailles, with its legendary Hall of Mirrors. There they meet a mysterious but splendidly dressed man who they’re told is merely a Polish count, a cousin of the Queen. Living an indulgent life of silk gowns, delicious meals, and soft beds, the students at this “school of mirrors” rarely ask questions, and when Louis tires of them, they are married off to minor aristocrats or allowed to retire to one of the more luxurious nunneries. 

Beautiful and canny Veronique arrives at the school of mirrors and quickly becomes a favorite of the King. But when she discovers her lover’s true identity, she is whisked away, sent to give birth to a daughter in secret, and then to marry a wealthy Breton merchant. There is no return to the School of Mirrors.

This is also the story of the King’s daughter by Veronique—Marie-Louise. Well-provided for in a comfortable home, Marie-Louise has never known her mother, let alone her father. Capable and intelligent, she discovers a passion for healing and science, and becomes an accredited midwife, one of the few reputable careers for women like her. But eventually Veronique comes back into her daughter’s life, bringing with her the secret of Marie-Louise’s birth. But the new King—Louis XVI—is teetering on his throne and it’s a volatile time in France…and those with royal relatives must mind their step very carefully.


King Louis XV of France has teenage girls from all over the country come and live at a nearby villa. His mistress Madam de Pompadour oversees the training of these girls as courtesans for the King, though they are told they will be visiting with a Polish Count. Thirteen-year-old Véronique is one of these girls whose mother sends her away because she can’t afford to keep her. Véronique becomes a favourite girl of the King, but when she becomes pregnant, she’s whisked away to give birth in secret and then she must marry a merchant that has been chosen for her. Véronique’s daughter Marie-Louise has to grow up without her parents. She isn’t treated well by her guardians, until she is sent to be trained by a midwife in Paris. The woman who teaches her treats Marie-Louise like her niece, and gives her a good life. However, when Marie-Louise finds a piece in the puzzle to her parentage, she tries to find the secret of her birth. 

This was quite a difficult book to read. There were some terrible things that happened to women and girls in the book, many of which were because of the time period but some still happen today. One thing that was interesting was the medical side of this story. Medicine has come a long way since the eighteenth century, but there was a female labour machine that mimicked the way a woman would give birth to teach midwives. This was an interesting piece of history that I didn’t know existed before reading this book. 

The School of Mirrors is a tough read but it’s a touching story. 

Thank you Penguin Random House Canada and Tandem Collective Global for providing a copy of this book. 

Content warnings: child abuse, child death, mother death, childbirth complications, nonconsensual sexual encounters

What to read next:

The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull

Have you read The School of Mirrors? What did you think of it?


Author: jilljemmett

Jill lives in Toronto, Canada. She has studied English, Creative Writing, and Publishing. Jill is the creator and content producer of Jill’s Book Blog, where she has published a blog post every day for the last four years, including 5-7 book reviews a week. She can usually be found with her nose in a book.

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