In "The Man Who Would Be King," Christine Pevitt attacks the weightly subject of the French royal family during the latter part of Louis XIV's reign and during the flagratly wild Regency period before the accession of the lackluster Louis XV. The center of this tale of Versaille intrigue and power-politics is Philippe D'Orleans, the Sun King's talented but often directionless nephew who eventually came to preside over the French court as Regent of France. Pevitt uses her source material competently and well, painting solid and unromanticized portraits of the major Versailles players of the Duke's day with just enough Royal scandal here and there to keep the reader interested. And, the picture of the Duke himself is a fascinating study of a royal person "on the cusp" of both the reactionary monarchist movement and the Enlightenment, fascinated by both but too often vacillating between the lure of power and the lure of new ideas and thinking which, by implication, challenged the very foundations of the absolutist monarchist principle itself. The Duke was a competent field commander, avid amateur "chemist," passionate lover, a dabbler in occult spiritualism, patron of the arts, and sometime-patron sometime-foe of figures like Voltaire and the lesser philosophes making such an impact on the intellectual life of France. Pevitt presents him almost sympathetically, as he was in some ways, even as she paints a picture of a man who could be a microcosm in one body of the conflict between the France that was and the France yet to be. My only quibbles are a too free use of French phraseology without citation or translation, and a propensity to make a muddle of the various personages of the convoluted French court, many of whom had names or titles which were similar and sometimes interchanged. At points, this made the the narrative very hard to follow, and the chapter on the War of the Spanish Succession, in particular, highlighted these deficiencies at their worst. And sometimes, the narrative will drag, but that is not a critique. It is a rare biography that does not from time to time, and it's a "flaw" easily forgiven.
Still, I was very happy to have picked up this book. It does the high-flying Regency period much justice, and the author's obvious desire to be balanced and straightforward about her many subjects shows the work of a disciplined mind caring about its subject but determined not to fall into the gushy, Harlequin romance traps that too often mar biogprahies of royal persons with useless, speculative sentimentality.
I recommend "The Man Who Would Be King" to any European history enthusiast or student of the French monarchy. A very fine first effort.