Sullivan, Laura L. Milady. New York: Berkley, 2019.
Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451489982 | 366 pages | Historical Fiction
I first heard about Milady from Elisabeth Lane when she picked up an ARC and a conference and featured it in a video, finding myself mildly intrigued at a spin on a male-dominated classic told from one of the only female characters, relegated to the role of villain. Subsequently, Dominic Noble’s video summing up the book (uploaded a day after the book released, but given his tremendous backlog of Patreon funded requests, and that this was based on one such request, I’m willing to chock it up to pure coincidence), and it made me realize, just as Laura L. Sullivan did, that the “heroes” of The Three Musketeers are horrible people, even allowing for historical context, and Milady is arguably much more sympathetic, in spite of being cast in the role of villain.
Sullivan thus takes the original story and allows Milady to reclaim the narrative in a wonderful way. Splitting between time periods, focusing on her backstory showing how she got to that point, and the “present” showing her version of the events of the original novel, it shows that while she was miscast to lift up D’Artagnan and the Musketeers, it was all by her design, with her use of excellent deception every step of the way to influence their perception of events.
As a result, I really loved the twists she put on the relationships between the characters, especially focusing on the relationships between women to contrast the theme of fraternity in the original. I love the twist that instead of being essentially a tragic figure, Constance (called “Connie” in the novel) is also in league with Milady and is given a better ending, and there’s a couple memorable scenes of them together that show the depth of their friendship.
As for Milady’s romantic life, I enjoyed seeing how she developed from a naive girl more or less who falls in love with someone who doesn’t reciprocate to seizing control of her own sexuality and eventually finding someone who respects her for it…and the fact that he was revealed to have essentially been there all along as well as being a great tie-in with a relationship her character has in the original is wonderful.
This is an absolutely amazing book in its own right, and I love how it pays tribute to the Dumas classic while also acknowledging that some characters deserved way better than they got…and giving it to them. I recommend this to anyone who loves female-centric historical fiction or female-centric retellings of classic novels.