Book Tour Review: The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

Monday, October 5, 2015
Title: The Sisters of Versailles
Author: Sally Christie
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles #1
Pages: 432
Published: September 1 2015
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

A sumptuous and sensual tale of power, romance, family, and betrayal centered around four sisters and one King. 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.

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.

In the tradition of The Other Boleyn Girl, The Sisters of Versailles is a clever, intelligent, and absorbing novel that historical fiction fans will devour. Based on meticulous research on 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.

If you were a fan of Sophie Perinot's The Sister Queens, Sally Christie might be your new favorite historical fiction writer. Here, she retells the unlikely but true story of the five Mailly-Nesle sisters of Louis XV's court. Infamous for their activities and relationship to the King, their various stories had yet to be translated into English and this first novel in the series will leave you anticipating the forthcoming sequel. From genuine Louise to avaricious Marie-Ann, these sisters were always interesting. Sally Christie ably creates a vibrant and realistic world for her characters, and The Sisters of Versailles is a story that flows easily and well.

The Sisters of Versailles reads and feels very much in the vein of Philippa Gregory's type of historical fiction. There's some political intrigue and scheming to be had, but the focus of the plot and motivation for the characters is usually based on personal desire, be it sexual or otherwise. I didn't really care for most of the characters themselves, but I was totally involved in their stories and outcomes. The four sisters are the most dimensional and defined, with varying degrees of characterization for the courtiers and people they interact with. Aside from the sisters, King Louis exerts the most influence on the other characters and the plot. 

First in the planned series from the author, this is a bigger book. But happily,  it doesn't lag or lose focus because of that pagelength. The pacing remains steady and the plot moves along at a good clip throughout the book. The rotating POV used can take a moment to fully adjust, but the voices of the sisters really are quite distinct and easily differentiated between. The amount of detail and research that went into creating The Sisters of Versailles is readily obvious and helps to create a fully-envisioned sense of place for the characters. Versailles itself has been described and explored in many books, but Christie's knowledge subtly keeps the chateau vivid and authenthic.

I thought the trilogy would be centered around the five Mailly-Nesle sister but it is clear that is not the case. The story ends well before the end of Louis' life, and well before his most famous mistresses appear on the scene.  For a series opener, The Sisters of Versailles can be read as a standalone novel. The plot and story are resolved with satisfaction, but I can't imagine signing off this series before meeting Louis other infamous lovers: Madame du Barry and Madame de Pompadour.

The Sisters of Versailles is compelling and hard to put down. The setting is rich and real, the characters are interesting and different, if not exactly likeable, and the plot is well-rendered. It's an exploration of power and family, ambition and piety set across the reign of one of France's best-loved monarchs. The early years of the French court in the 1800s is a fascinating time and Sally Christie more than does it justice here.

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