56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
In truth I thought never to see another novel by Sandra Gulland after her Josephine B. trilogy, because it was such a spectacular achievement both in writing and research (down to the footnotes which explained every little fact.)Since there was such a large publishing gap I had thought it was to be a life's achievement worthy of any great author. I was wrong.
"Mistress of the Sun", Gulland's new novel, is quite simply a work of literary brilliance. A novel filled with light. Centered on the life of Louise de Valliere, who arose from the lowest ranks of the country aristocracy to become the mistress of the Sun king, Louis XIV.
It is clear from the first chapter, when Louise (nicknamed Petite) at six years old tames a wild horse no one else can come near to her will that she is more than an ordinary girl. Precocious, graceful as a sawn and full of love and light she enchants her family. But the horse causes the death of her father it leaves her without speech or desire for anything and she sent into the care of a nunnery. However, because of her mothers second marriage Louise is denied the religious life she believes she wants and becomes instead a lady in waiting to the duc d'Orleans eldest daughter, who is believed to be the young king's intended. When plans for the marriage fall through and the duc dies; Louise does the rebuffed bride to be a service for which she is recommend for service in the palace to Henrietta, sister of the English king Charles II and wife to the new duc d'Orleans, the French king's brother.
It is here, in the glittering court were she will meet the King, a man she much admires but can never learn to reconcile with Louis, who she loves. Or their desire and passion with her religion.
And she soon discovers the King has needs the ordinary man would not have-emotions and desires that a simple man would learn to regulate. Eventually Louise finds her great love slipping away as the King emerges to her more and more and Louis less and less...but perhaps this transformation is helped along a little by means not natural? By a new rival who was once a great friend?
This is a novel of passion, god, fallacy, jealousy fears, grief, evil, and love in its many forms. It is the tale of an extraordinary love, and an extraordinary woman who gave her all for love but in the end discovered that passion can follow many different courses. And the little hint of mystery about it is just enough to make me want to start an extensive research project on the Sun King and his women.
Though unlike the Josephine B. series it is written in third person, Gulland loses none of her magical, sometimes fairy-tale style of writing in the change, nor any of her ability to cram in facts and oddities of the time without distracting from the story by any means. The little things you will learn in this novel will astound you about the time, as will the love story move you and Louise's dominating courage inspire.
I enjoyed this novel immensely and was hugely touched by the emotion that poured out of it. It is clear that Gulland was devoted to her subject and took her time to properly tell the story of this very special woman, who has far too often been categorized as just another royal mistress.
This is (for me) obviously a five star novel. I was unable to put it down once I picked it up and was even up a good portion of the night with it. I have high hopes for Sandra Gulland's next novel and owe her a debt of thanks for teaching me so much French history in such an enjoyable way!
(On a side note "Mistress of the Sun" also tells the tale of the making of the simple country château of Versaie into the great seat of France Versailles, though not in great detail. If you'd like to know more about that I refer you to "To Dance with Kings" by Rosalind Laker.)
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2008
It seems that tales about royal mistresses never seem to grow stale, at least in our world's literary market. In the few last years I've seen several books on such women as Nell Gwynn and Barbara Castlemaine, both mistresses of Charles II of England, the various mistresses of Louis XIV of France, and women in renaissance Italy.
Author Sandra Gulland has turned to one of the lesser known mistresses of Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, the monarch who created the palace of Versailles, and put his stamp on a place and time so vividly that no one ever really equalled him. His first official mistress was a young woman by the name of Louise de la Valliere, who is usually overlooked in favour of the king's far more flamboyant mistress, Athenais de Montespan.
When the novel opens, Louise -- known as Petite for her small stuature -- is a half-wild child on her family's small manor. She is particularly in tune with nature, and adores horses. Her father understands and indulges her, but her mother is determined to turn her into a fashionable -- and marriageable -- young lady. But Petite would much rather go and be outside, or be reading her father's collection of prized books.
The turning point comes when she at a horse fair with her father, and she sees not just skills of horsemanship, but a magnificent white stallion, unbroken and wild. Termed Diablo -- the Devil -- he allows no one near, but Petite is enchanted by him. She pleads with her father to buy the horse, and he relunctantly agrees. So begins Petite's foray into the world of adulthood, a rather rocky, and at times, unpleasant one.
For Diablo is nothing but trouble -- Petite, driven with a hunger to tame him, is tempted to use a dangerous spell called 'bone magic' to control him, and while it does succeed, it comes at a terrible price. We also get to see Petite's own desire for entering the religious life and becoming a nun, but her mother has very different plans for her.
When the opportunity comes to enter the household of the Duke d'Orleans household, Petite discovers that being a royal handmaiden and the lives of the aristocracy is quite different than she had expected. And when she mets a young huntsman, her life takes a drastic turn as she falls for the young king of France, Louis XIV.
I have to say, I was prepared to be disappointed with this one; I had read the author's previous series about the first wife of Napoleon, Josephine de Beauharnais, and found it to be not quite what I liked. This time, Sandra Gulland has sharpened her skills at creating narrative and imagry and created a young woman in Petite that is complicated, and satisfying to read about. True, at times, I felt that the heroine would bleed pure sugar if you cut her, but there's just enough there to make her come alive. By the end, I genuinely cared about Louise/Petite, and the extravagant life she was leading in the Sun King's court.
Nor does Gulland neglect the other characters in the novel. Louis XIV is a young king, still untried in many ways, but determined to tame the nobility of his country and rule by his will alone. Gulland brings a bit of humanity to him, and his ever wandering lust for women to life and does it with enough style to make him sympathetic. Especially when the tempetuous, dangerous Madame Athenais comes into view. Here too we get to see a seductive, deadly charm -- you might not like her very much, but you can't help but pay attention to her either. Other minor characters appear as well, from Clorine, Petite's maid, who is full of commonsense and not afraid of speaking her mind, to the equally horse-mad Abbe Patin, who becomes one of Petite's best friends and spiritual advisor. There are some interesting tidbits about the Affairs of the Poisons, the scandal that rocked France at the time, and where Petite gets to learn about true witchery.
I was pleased with this novel, as it is quick moving and compelling to read -- I had it finished within two nights. It's one that I happily recommend for those who enjoy historical novels, with plenty of details focused on the history and grandeur of the time, without going over the top with contrived romances. While there are a few blunders here and there, it's not bad at all, and easily earned a four star rating from me.
As well as the story itself, there is an author's note at the end, a map of France in the time of Louis XIV, and a genealogy chart showing the rather tangled relationships of the Bourbon Kings. The author recommends Antonia Fraser's excellent _Love and Louis XIV_ about the king's many affairs and relationships with women.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2009
Louise's story comes alive in this masterful novel by Sandra Gulland. What is fascinating about Sandra Gulland is that she goes to great lengths to include historical accuracy. From wearing period correct clothing, to spending a few weeks in a completely silent convent!
But what adds to all of this is the passion and detail she places into her characters. It is difficult not to experience everything Louise de La Valliere goes through as the mistress to Louis XIV. This is by far the finest historical novel I have come across!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2009
A book on love, spirituality, mysticism, power and courage lived by Louise de Lavallière, known as, Petite, during an important chapter in Louis XIV's life; A great Love...
Right from the beginning, I immediately felt tenderness for the six-year old Petite; this child whose heart and mind races as quickly as the stallions she already knows how to tame and ride. Her passion for horses leads her to push the ways of the dark side in order to tame her `beloved' and wild, white stallion -Diablo. She truly believes this pact with the devil is what brings forth the inevitable course of her life.
It is purely by chance, that her fate leads her to meet the Sun King. In the fields that day, when she speaks to the tall, vibrant young man dressed in hunting gear... she doesn't realize who he really is. Later, while on duty, attending a young Princess at court, Petite sees the King. She recognizes him! King Louis spots her as well; she looks familiar...
Then, during a disastrous rain storm, fate brings them together once more. From that fleeting moment of tenderness, follows a strong resistance. Due to her virtuous morals, unwavering faith, regard and respect for the Queen, Petite renounces every attempt to succumb to the King. Alas, they are young, filled with passion and an irresistible longing to be together. Couple this with their common love of horses, hunting and riding, as well as, great friendship and interest in eachother- there is no escaping this powerful force... Petite surrenders. They are meant to live this love.
However, loving Louis and loving the King are two different things. Can Petite accept one without the other? The ways of Royalty are not all that glitters. There is much pain and sorrow. Can their love endure in a world filled with lies, deception, betrayals, masks and sorcery? Petite is deeply in love and totally devoted to Louis; yet extremely committed to her faith. A pure soul at heart, Petite constantly struggles to fight the evil battle.
In this beautiful historical novel, author Sandra Gulland, captures the true feeling of the times, whether it's in the fine points pertaining to the history, or the minute details of every day life at court for both royals and those who dared live alongside. History buffs will be amazed by the amount of interesting historical information that keeps you plugged to this book.
Birthing and illness remedies and methods, including love potions and magical concoctions believed to soothe (or destroy) both soul and body, are meticulously described. In addition, the dialog is extremely well-suited and completely realistic. For me, it's of particular importance for a novel to be written using the language feel and best possible form reflective of the period. Even the French expressions are intact; mirroring the times perfectly. Gulland succeeds through and through.
In addition, character depictions are solid and skillfully developed to bring out the needed emotions in order to completely detest or adore the targeted figure. I was also surprised by the chameleon effect of certain characters, bringing about a whole different element and aspect to the story; particularly where Athénaïs is involved, for example.
The concept of living a life through intricacies, complications and deceptions of sorts helps depict the deterioration of spirit, youth, beauty, and life in the Court of Louis XIV. Inevitably, people resort to various methods to control the invariables by means that are contrary to the teachings of the Church at the time. Holding on to Louis proves to be an even greater challenge than taming her beloved Diablo. Will Petite need to make a different pact? She alone must decide her fate.
What an intense love story! For me, Petite came through as angelic in her ways; a gentle and free spirit entangled in wrath. As for Louis XIV, he was larger than life; the Sun. ...an angel fighting for the sun- within so much darkness. Even the title reveals a deep and mystical meaning. Petite my have miraculously `survived' a true fairytale after all...`happily ever after'...
The story unravels magnificently. I was enraptured from beginning to end. Splendid!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
In her first novel in eight years (following the international success of her Josephine B. trilogy), Sandra Gulland has chosen an enigmatic figure--Louise de la Vallière, mistress to Louis XIV and mother of four children by him. Louise has been overshadowed in history by her more glamorous successors and the flamboyance that characterized the later years of Louis's reign, but in her captivating jewel of a novel Gulland offers an absorbing account of a woman who reluctantly became a royal mistress and paid the price.
Gulland's Louise has a fey spirit with the ability to enchant horses. In a desperate act of magic to save a feral stallion's life she sets the course for her own destiny, one that will bring her equal measures of sorrow and joy. Uneasy with the cruel sycophantism of court, caught between her innate spiritual introspection and an impoverished lineage that compels her to noble servitude, Louise eventually catches the young king's eye. Louis is handsome and vital, poised to assume his later embodiment as the Sun King. In Louise, he discovers incorruptible innocence, and their romance flourishes under a secrecy that continues for years, even as he grows in stature and she wrestles with her conscience and the degradation of her illusions. Scandal ensues when Louise is brought into the open as Louis's lover; this fateful moment also sets the stage for her decline.
Fascinating details of life at the French court sparkle throughout the narrative, evidence of Gulland's dedication to research. While Louise may not be as ambitious or clever as those who followed in her footsteps, she imbues an unforgettable authenticity that gives credence to the belief that she was Louis XIV's only true love.
(This review was first published in the May 2008 issue of The Historical Novels Review)
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2008
I found this an engrossing tale of life in the court of the young Louis XIV, a figure so associated with engendering the extravagance that came to represent 17th century France, that it was refreshing to see him portrayed in a very human way; a person struggling to reconcile his duty as monarch with his innate need for love and family, sans the excessive pomp and grandeur for which he was later famous. The attention to detail was impeccable and one can tell that the author spent an exhaustive amount of time researching her subjects. This novel may not be filled with the pageantry and extravagance that one comes to expect in stories involving French royalty of the 17th century but what it lacks in firepower it more than makes up for in rich characterizations and an unerring sense of time and place. The story moves in a beautiful, languid pace, very much like taking a stroll through a flowering garden rather than a race through a carnival. If you're looking for tawdry thrills, idle court gossip and catty exchanges, this may not be your book; however, if you're in the mood for some excellent writing about a little known historical figure who managed to steal the heart of the King of France and in her own small way, influence history, I think you'll find this a rewarding read. Another reviewer stated that there was "no meat" to this story. I wholly disagree. There is much substance. What it might lack, however, is the whipped cream that most people love in tales of courtly life.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2009
I picked up this book on a whim from the library having never heard of or read the author. But I loved this book! It made me want to read more from this author and learn more about Louis XIV. One of my favorite books of 2008!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2010
Sandra Gulland does an exemplary job of inviting readers into the world of 17th century France and the extravagant court of King Louis XIV in her latest feat of historical fiction, "Mistress of the Sun."
In a world of lavishness, opulence, feasts, luxury and unceasing socializing comes an unlikely mistress for the Sun King, with plain features, no dowry and an apparent limp. Nonetheless, what Louise de la Valliere lacks in traditional courtly beauty she more than makes up for with her intelligence, sportsmanship, morals and fortitude.
Ultimately, she wins the heart of the young king without trying to and finds herself as the king's official mistress, bearing him four children.
As the years pass, and the king's behavior changes, Louise realizes she loves the hunter and rider she first met, Louis, but not the King. Once outside circumstances push Louise to a point of reckoning with her inner conflict, she must choose between her heart and her conscience.
Guilland's prose makes for easy and captivating reading, depicting truly identifiable characters, while simultaneously bringing to life a world more than 300 years old.
Readers won't be disappointed with Guilland's tale of love, money, forbidden bone magic, loyalty and, ultimately, betrayal.
--Sacramento Book Review, June 2009
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2011
Petite a adventurous child who wandered from home to see the traveling show of a warrior woman who stood on the back of a thunderous stallion as it ran full speed. She already had given her heart to horses but something had pulled her there that day in particular. A pure white wild stallion, angry and untamed. She had managed to convince her father to buy him for her even though he was untamed, wild at heart, and just like her. After a turn of events the horse could not be swayed even with a gentler and an exorcism. Her father had decided the burden was to great and decided to put him down. Petite being only six years old could not let that happen. She slipped into her fathers library and read about "Bone Magic" for horses. The bone magic worked but at what cost? Did she let in the devil when she did it? Or was it just fate that sorrow followed her from then on.
Petite was a different type of character for me . She was completely lacking of ambition, and she did not really listen to her heart for instruction in her life. A mysterious person who did not even gossip with her maid and actually kept a lot of things from her. She reminded me of the type of person to be inclined to stay with the animals rather than people. A whisperer who gentled animals.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2009
I read this book in three days. One of the best books I've read in the last year. I am a historical fiction junkie...its almost the only thing I read now and if this is your genre too, buy this book NOW!