The Sisters of Versailles
Book 1 in the Mistresses of Versailles series
by Sally Christie
Narrated by Elizabeth Wiley
Published by Tantor Media
Publication date Sep 1, 2015
Running time 15 hrs 15 min
Also available in trade paperback and e-book formats
from Simon & Schuster /Atria Books | 432 pages
Audiobook provided by Tantor Media for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinion presented herein is my own except as noted.
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, 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 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. https://tantor.com/the-sisters-of-versailles-sally-christie.html
Manipulated, manipulating, or a bit of both?
This is the story of five sisters of the nobility in 18th century France with parents who did that job haphazardly. I guess if you just had girls the goal was to get them off your hands as soon as possible, preferably with wealth or position. Some of the sisters are manipulated, and some are manipulated. Some are good, some are victims of circumstance, and some are conniving. Mostly I think it shows that people are not just “good” or “bad” but complicated creatures, often forced by circumstance into situations and actions in which they would not normally engage (except for a couple of cases).
The story is told mostly through what feel like letters or diaries, but with basic narrative as well. This varying POV from the epistolary to simple third person struck me as a weakness in the structure. But, the writer is reconstructing life at a court removed in time and place from our own, a pre-industrial life nearly impossible for us to fathom.
The French court seems to have worked similarly to the British court, but seems to have been more removed from the people as they seemed to spend all their time at Versailles which, even by today’s standards is huge and at the time seems to have been in the middle of the countryside. It also seems like the customs were essentially the same with positions of women in service to the queen or the king. It does seem much more debauched. I thought it was interesting that a woman could be married and have a child which was not her husband’s progeny and still survive at court.
Told from the point of view of the three sisters how much time seems to be spent in actual governance varies by whether the sister is political, silly, or simply falls in love with the king.
When all is said and done, while the story was interesting, I think what was missing for me was, basically, a point. Why is the story of these sisters interesting, why should we care? Is the point that even kings and noble mistresses have dysfunctional families? If that is the point then consider it made. Or perhaps it is that sisters then, as now, just have different personalities even though they are of the same family and grow up with the same parents and governess.
Or maybe the point is that whenever a story takes place, and whoever the man is, he still thinks too often with the little head.
There is a lot of fascinating minutiae of life at court, life at the time. The research that way was obviously well-done.
Women replaced their eyebrows with mouse fur?!?!?!
I felt for the sister who became the first mistress of the king, Louise. She was pushed into being the king’s mistress and then is essentially left with nothing. More than fear of losing the love of the man she truly loved, she has to fear losing everything. I loved how Pauline and Dianne were voiced – with polarity in intelligence and what they focused on.
The two Machiavellian sisters, Pauline and Marie Anne are scary. They are the ones to fear. But they are not as politically astute as they believe. And, on her website, the author admits she probably portrayed Diane Adelaide as sillier than she actually was. Hortense, who is sort of the starting point, telling the stories of her sisters and the king through their letters, lives to be the oldest. She lives through the revolution, her husband was a member of the nobility but his sympathies seem almost seditious, and tells the stories through the veil of memory.
I did not like the death scenes, not just because they had death which is not my favorite subject, but because they were narrated through the mind of the person dying. That is my least favorite way to be told of death in fiction. It always seems wrong; something of a gimmick.
This was well worth my time simply for the beauty of the language, and as a simple piece of literary fiction and as women’s fiction. It has romance but is not a romance novel. The narration is well done, beautiful even, with Elizabeth Wiley providing distinct and appropriate character voices. I swear my late aunt was one of the voices I heard, or maybe the she and the character lined up just that well.
I also liked that it was a good-sized audiobook, so depending on whether you buy the CDs, the MP3-CDs or the audio download you are getting a bit more than 15 hours of listening time.
If you like historical fiction, and would like to read something that doesn’t have to do with Great Britain or the Americas, then this may be a good choice for you. I did enjoy it quite a bit, despite the few flaws I found.