Book review: Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

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Series: The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy

Paperback: 432 pages

Publisher: Atria Books (September 1, 2015)

Carefully researched and ornately detailed, The Sisters of Versailles is the first book in an exciting new historical fiction trilogy about King Louis XV, France’s most “well-beloved” monarch, and the women who shared his heart and his bed.

The Sisters of Versailles centers on the (relatively, at least for the genre) overlooked period of early 18th century France. The French Revolution and Marie Antoinette have been extensively written about; it’s time for fans of that time period to step further back in time and to explore the reign of Louis XV (1715 – 1774) a time of increasing social turbulence and change that sets the stage neatly for the Revolution that follows.

 Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear.

Set against the lavish backdrop of the French Court in the early years of the 18th century, The Sisters of Versailles is the extraordinary tale of the five Nesle sisters—Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne—four of whom became mistresses to King Louis XV. Their scandalous story is stranger than fiction but true in every shocking, amusing, and heartbreaking detail.

Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best foot—and women—forward. The King’s scheming ministers push Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, the four sisters—sweet, naïve Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne—will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power.

In the tradition of The Other Boleyn GirlThe Sisters of Versailles is a clever, intelligent, and absorbing novel that historical fiction fans will devour. Telling the story of a group of women never before written about in English, Sally Christie’s stunning debut is a complex exploration of power and sisterhood—of the admiration, competition, and even hatred that can coexist within a family when the stakes are high enough.

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SC2About Sally Christie

Sally Christie was born in England of British parents but grew up mostly in Canada. As a child she moved around with her family and then continued her wandering as she pursued a career in international development; she’s lived in 14 different countries and worked in many more. She’s now settled in Toronto and loving it.

Sally lives and breathes history; ever since she read Antonia Fraser’s masterful Mary, Queen of Scotswhen she was 10, she’s been an avid history junkie. She wishes more attention and technical innovation was devoted to time travel, because there is nothing she would rather do than travel back in time! Writing historical fiction is a poor substitute, but it’s the best one we have at the moment.

When not reading and writing history, she’s a tennis and Scrabble fanatic.

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REVIEW:

Madame de Pompadour comes to mind when we think of Louis XV. She was his official chief mistress, aide and advisor in governmental matters. What is little known is that, prior to her arrival on the scene, a family of four daughters, the Nesle de Maille sisters, played a role in the life of Louis le bien aimé’s Court at Versailles.

These four very different, uneducated women, daughters of an impoverished nobleman one by one end up at the glittering court of Versailles, a hotbed of jealousy, intrigue and scandal. The story is narrated by each of the sisters so we get a glimpse into their individual personalites through the letters written to each other. What I enjoyed about the story is the unpredictability of their actions at Versailles, despite being privy to their innermost thoughts throughout the storyline.

As a lover of European history, I enjoy reading the work of authors such as Alison Weir, Sandra Gulland and Philippa Gregory, amongst others. I would consider this novel to be “light” historical fiction because the story revolved more around the “romantic” lives of these five women and less about the historical events of the time. I was unable to develop an affinity for any of the women in this book, perhaps due to the lack of character development.

I was dismayed by the use of the “F-word” in several places. I really did not think that this was historically appropriate or necessary for this type of book. Because of the mature situations, I would consider this book to be PG-13 + M.

Despite its 417 pages, I consider Christie’s book to be a pleasant, light read.

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