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Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV


Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV

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. Let's face it, that's what makes the story. Isn't that why these books are so much fun? Oh it is, and Karleen Koen doesn't disappoint.

"In stories about kings and mistresses, politics sometimes gets pushed to the side and becomes background noise. That doesn't happen here, and it's refreshing."

Cardinal Mazarin, the French prime minister, is dead. Louis XIV, only 22 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. He is married to a woman he greatly admires for her breeding and royal pedigree, but he doesn't truly love her and is looking for a distraction she can't provide. Louis knows it's the idea of passion and surprise that comes from his illicit affair with Henriette, but he 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 that he didn't expect --- Louis finds he might have fallen in love.

BEFORE VERSAILLES started slowly. It was almost as if it was waiting for Louis to find his footing as king; once he found his confidence, so did the story. While the affair between Louis and Henriette is more intense, his affair with Louise is completely the opposite (but, in a way, more satisfying). All the court intrigue requirements 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. What he's dealing with on the political level makes you see why he craves love in the quieter parts of his life.

In stories about kings and mistresses, politics sometimes gets pushed to the side and becomes background noise. That doesn't happen here, 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.

Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on July 20, 2011

Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV
by Karleen Koen

  • Publication Date: June 28, 2011
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Crown
  • ISBN-10: 0307716570
  • ISBN-13: 9780307716576