Review – Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV

Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV

By Karleen Koen

Crown Publishers

ISBN: 978030771657-6

4 stars

I’ve always had a soft spot for the antics of the French court even more so than the English courts and I’m the type of person who can’t turn down a story about the Tudors. In books revolving around the monarchy, whether French or English, one can’t have a story without a mistress and let’s all agree that’s what makes the story. Isn’t that why these books are so much fun? Oh, it is and Koen doesn’t disappoint.

Cardinal Mazarin, the French prime minister, is dead and Louis XIV, only twenty-two years-old, is now king of France and a king with power. That power is not yet firmly grasped but he’s intent on learning to yield it fully. Unaware of many of the financial arrangements his mother and the Cardinal made while ruling in his stead, he’s in for a surprise when he finally takes it upon himself to investigate. Unsure of his financial minister’s monetary affairs and how mingled they are with the crown’s accounts, he has suspicions and employs a faithful counselor to help him sort through the courtly promises and financial advice being offered.

To add another distraction, Louis has fallen in love with his brother Philippe’s wife, Princess Henriette, a woman captivating not only the king but the entire French court. A man not used to being denied, Louis attempts to make Henriette his mistress against the wishes of not only his brother but also his mother who believes it will be his downfall. Married to a woman he greatly admires for her breeding and royal pedigree, unfortunately, he doesn’t truly love her and is looking for a distraction she can’t provide. He knows it’s the idea of passion and surprise that comes from his illicit affair with Henriette but Louis can’t help himself. To calm the court, Henriette suggests he flirt with one of her maids; a shy but very pretty young woman named Louise. Then something happens he didn’t expect — Louis finds he might have fallen in love.

Before Versailles started slowly for but it was almost as if it was waiting for Louis to find his footing as king and once he found his confidence, so did the story. While the affair between Louis and Henriette is more intense, the affair with Louise is completely the opposite but in a way more satisfying. All the court intrigue requirements needed for a story like this are met and then some. Oddly, the financial scandal is also quite good, adding a harder edge to what is mostly a love story. It’s a nice contrast for Louis as he grows into his role as a king and what he’s dealing with on the political level makes you see why he craves love in the quieter parts of his life. I was happy to see the political elements here. In stories about kings and mistresses it sometimes gets pushed to the side and becomes background noise. Here that doesn’t happen and it’s refreshing. There is a small side story involving Louise that feels slightly out of place but it’s the only stumble in an otherwise entertaining book.

I read a lot of historical fiction and I love when authors find a way to make well-known figures interesting and intense characters that allow you to imagine another life for that person. Koen does that with Louis XIV. I finished wanting to know more about the king that would build the palace of Versailles. That can be difficult to accomplish sometimes.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

 

Teaser Tuesdays – The Restorer

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so other participants know what you’re reading.

I started The Restorer by Amanda Stevens last night and thought I’d share a teaser this fine morning.

“It suggests the flight of the soul, although it’s a little more ambiguous than a dove or a winged effigy.”

He glanced up.  “What the devil is a winged effigy?” (page 66 on Nook)

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so that other participants know what you’re reading.

This week, my teaser comes from Chasing the Night by Iris Johansen.

“But Eve had her own life, her own priorities.  She didn’t even know if she could help Catherine.  Should she become involved in trying to—” (47)

What are you teasing us with this week?

Dracula in Love

Dracula in Love

By Karen Essex

Doubleday

ISBN: 978-0-385-52891-7

3 stars

I’ll be upfront, I read a few early reviews and wasn’t so sure this book was for me.  I decided that I still needed to give it a chance though.  After reading it, I decided that it wasn’t the book for me and I like vampire stories and have a very deep affection for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  This book followed the same epistolary style but was told from Mina Murray’s point of view.  Mina is a character that I happen to like from the original and that was the reason for my deciding to give it a go.

Mina Murray is teaching and happily waiting to become Mrs. Jonathan Harker and begin her married life.  Wanting to be prepared for their future together, Jonathan takes a short sojourn working for a foreign count to help their finances and further his career.  While Jonathan is away, Mina visits her friend Lucy Westenra and becomes involved in her friend’s love affairs.  She also starts having odd dreams and feelings that she can’t share with anyone.  When she gets a letter telling her that Jonathan is gravely ill, she rushes to his side to nurse him back to health.  In the coming weeks, Mina’s strange dreams start to become her reality, her husband confesses an affair, her friend dies, and somehow she ends up in an insane asylum.  It is then that her dream lover comes to her rescue.

Several of the reviews I read noted the amount of sex; some found it too much, others didn’t seem to think anything of it.  The story takes place in Victorian England so sex, while deeply thought about, wasn’t much talked about, and yes, that is a big part of the story here as it was in the original as well.  The sex, amount of or lack of depending on how feel about these things, didn’t bother me but the silly references about it were annoying and slightly cumbersome in places.

While most of the same characters appear (Dr. Seward, Arthur Holmwood, Jonathan Harker, Dr.Van Helsing, Lucy Westenra) they have been changed slightly and some have become so maddening that I wanted to slap a few — Seward in particular who seemed to diagnose each and every woman he met with some sex related disease of the mind.  What I found annoying about this was that I felt I was once again being reminded about the Victorian sex mindset and I didn’t need that.

The last 100 pages of this book were much better than the 267 preceding pages.  And though I won’t mention it here, Mina’s character is given a new, life shall we say, that adds an interesting, if somewhat strange twist, to the story.  It didn’t work for me, but as long as you’re not a purist, it probably won’t provide the “really?” moment for you as it did for me.

If you’re looking for a vampire/Dracula story with a little different take, this one might be for you.  I found it a bit sluggish but a relatively fast read for a weekend.

This book was sent to me by the publisher for review.