Monday, October 12, 2015

Review: The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

The Sisters of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy Book #1)
by Sally Christie
Release Date: September 1st 2015
2015 Atria Books
Ebook Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-1501102967
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from HFVBT

4 / 5 Stars

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, naive Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne, will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power.

My Thoughts
The Sisters of Versailles is the first book in a planned trilogy about the mistresses of Versailles, or more specifically, the mistresses of King Louis XV.  As this is more of an area of specialty for me, especially the French Revolution, I was curious as to how the scheming sisters and their various intrigues would be dealt with in this book.  While it took a bit to get into it, due in large part to Louise who was quite an insipid character, as well as the lack of dialogue, I did enjoy the descriptions of Versailles and the various characters that surrounded the sisters and king.  And to be honest, I was intrigued enough by the concept of four sisters being seduced by the king to keep me reading.

First of all, it's a shame that Louise is the first sister to become the mistress of the king as her character is the one that annoyed me the most; while very much the nurturing sister, her naivete amidst the decadence and immorality that surrounded her was not an attractive trait.  Constantly the butt of insults and jokes, and known for not speaking her mind and defending herself, Louise just kind of floats through the world accepting it for what it was; she had been taught from a young age that one does not show emotion in front of others, but it serene and peaceful, even amonst catty courtiers and those constantly making her the receiving end of petty jokes and schemes.  She could have been such an interesting character if she had just grown a backbone.  It doesn't surprise me at all that the king would have grown tired of her; the mothering and pampering would have driven anyone crazy after a while.  Even in her letters she lived in a world of fantasy where everything was good and perfect, at least on the outside.

In all fairness, I'm not really sure I liked Pauline any better than Louise, although she was much more interesting.  If you have to be the king's mistress due to others' political manoeuvrings, you should at least be compensated for it and Pauline at least expected to receive gifts and benefits, including a title, unlike Louise who left with pretty much nothing on her back, despite her good marriage. Pauline interfered in politics and was interested in many topics, while Louise preferred to ignore anything that was bad, much like the king.  Pauline sort of forced the king, as much as she was able, to face the good and the bad of his rule.  Although it is still very controversial, there are some scholars who credit Pauline with forcing the king to begin making his own decisions rather than relying on Parliament or on his Prime Minister.  The king's rule is very controversial to begin with, as only several years after his death was the beginning of the French Revolution, not something that can be blamed simply on Louis XIV.  

Mary-Anne is one of the sisters with whom I did not really relate at all, although there was some hope at the beginning.  While I understood her actions, when it came to her sisters, it went a bit too far for me and my liking for her went straight downhill.  Mind you, I am looking at things from a modern perspective and not from the eighteenth century perspective when things were extremely different and women were very vulnerable.  Furthermore, people were starving in the streets due to famine and cold winters which made levels of tolerance for the elite that much less; the decadence and the waste was excessive and I can understand how things led to the Revolution and the path they did. This is probably the only time in the novel where I enjoyed Louise's character as she realized where her own immorality and decadence had gotten her and she began doing a lot of charity work; the reader got more of an idea as to the suffering of the people, but it wasn't enough.  While I enjoyed the descriptions of court life, I would have also liked more descriptions of regular life and the vast differences between the nobility and the lower classes.

Diane was just foolish and a follower and I can't believe she did what she did because one of her sisters asked her to.  I know this sentence sounds kind of obscure but I don't want to give everything away.  I was hoping Diane would develop some sense once she spent time at court, but nope, that didn't happen.  And Hortense, she spent so much time admonishing others and spouting Bible verses at them that she was kind of boring, almost as if her purity elevated her to a degree above the others that she felt free to spout her opinions to anyone who cared to listen, which no one really did.  

The Sisters of Versailles is an interesting read about five sisters whose lives are changed due to four sisters having a relationship with the King of France.  While I enjoyed the different viewpoints of the sisters as you got a sense as to how each of them fit into Versailles, it was the King's development in which I was really interested and how each of them manipulated him to their own means.  King Louis XV was not the strongest king and I like how you got a sense of how he was led by his advisers and those around him, but also how everyone also waited to see how the king would react before they would dare to do anything.  Very few people would stick up for themselves, which is why I liked Pauline the best of them all, and that's saying a lot, and I have always liked Richelieu, whom we see a little bit here.  The king was also not very aware of how others were feeling, not really caring, as long as it didn't affect him, an attitude that is not unusual during this time period.  People were very isolated unto themselves, constantly scheming in order to better themselves, and it must have been a very lonely world as you couldn't trust anybody, including your own family members.  Definitely understandable how a world such a this could not survive.