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Mistress of the Sun: A Novel Hardcover – June 3, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
As she did for Napoleon's wife (The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.), Gulland skillfully blends fact and fiction to imagine the life of Louise de la Vallière (1644–1710), mistress to Louis XIV, France's Sun King. Louise loses her father early and spends her childhood in a convent run by her aunt, Sister Angelique. When Louise's mother, Françoise, marries a marquis, she takes Louise home, where, by chance, she meets King Louis. As she secures a position at court about 100 pages in, the plot finally begins to bubble with intrigue: the king has married for political reasons, but, as a young and pious man, he has not kept a mistress before Louise. Their secret love eventually comes to light, but not without exacting a price. A supernatural element threaded throughout adds color to Gulland's vivid period imaginings. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In spirit, there was nothing diminutive about Louise de la Valliere, known to her family as “Petite.” A rambunctious girl who could tame the wildest stallion, the impoverished and unmarriageable Petite was also able to tame the heart of the legendary Sun King, Louis XIV. Once she had captured his eye, Petite was quickly ensconced in his court, where, as his mistress, she was elevated to a titled position. Such a meteoric rise was bound to attract attention of the wrong sort, and Petite’s life was filled with the terrors and tragedies that accompany all internecine tales of palace intrigue. Amid rumors of black magic and sorcery, loved ones would die, and Petite herself would ultimately arrive at a crossroads where she would be forced to choose between her loyalty to the king and her own personal salvation. Teeming with the rich period details that make historical fiction so rewarding, Gulland’s dynamic and nuanced portrait of Louis’ notorious reign thrums with page-turning expediency and deliciously seductive machinations. --Carol Haggas
Top customer reviews
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.
Louise is an extremely likeable character. So many monarchs have mistresses that just seem to be using them for titles and wealth. It was refreshing to read about a mistress who appeared to legitimately love a king. Louise and Louis kept their affair secret for as long as possible, so her first two children were not even legitimized by him and during this time she didn't receive royal favors from him. While she did, eventually, use her influence to help her brother, she really didn't exhaust the treasury like Louis' contemporary king, Charles II of England, was doing for his mistresses. Also, her role in the country wasn't as pronounced. People didn't ask her to present their petitions to the king. In one instance, the minister of the treasury tries to offer her money to spy on the king. She tells him her loyalty isn't for sale and then reports the incident to the king. It does seem like she truly puts the king first, and isn't with him just to see what she can get. Granted, this is historical fiction so it isn't all true, but she made a very positive impression.
Louise is also presented as having simple tastes. She likes to read, ride horses and be outside. She doesn't gamble very much and doesn't stay out to all hours. She is extremely religious and her affair with the king weighs on her. I just really got the feeling that she was a good person who fell in love with the wrong man.
The details in this book are fantastic. Some of the traditions of that time are disgusting but also fascinating. One example: When the queen is pregnant, Louis kills a deer and gives her the heart, which she uses as a protective amulet during the birth of their child. Disgusting by today's standards but it is interesting to think about what was considered lucky and protective back then. I also really liked the descriptions of French royalty getting dressed. It was quite a process since every maid in waiting had a specific role that had to be performed just so.
I thought this book was a really interesting look into the court of the Sun King. I wish there were more novels set in this time and place. There are a couple of problems that should have been caught by an editor but nothing too distracting. Louise is a great character and a lot of fun to learn about and cheer for.
Reading about Louise’s youth (I should mention that she is called primarily by her diminutive nickname, Petite, but we wouldn’t in a review refer to a male by a childhood nickname, so I won’t use it here in this review to refer to a female), I kept thinking that this was more of a book for teens than for an adult. It is a series of clichés, all a bit too familiar to an adult reader, and told much too simplistically. However, I respected the author’s research into daily life, and I particularly enjoyed how she portrayed the combination of Christianity and superstition.
Louise has a difficult childhood, with her parents facing financial woes. She, however, has the power to tame wild horses, and much of her childhood story revolves around her love of horses. It is purely understandable, and many girls share that love. How often can a little girl be free and in control other than in dreams of racing across the fields on the back of her own huge, semi-wild stallion? So many of us, me included, had that fantasy as children. Unfortunately, here it is taken to ridiculous extremes. Seriously, am I supposed to not laugh at a young girl being the horse tamer for the extraordinarily rich and powerful Duc d’Orleans?
And we also have the cliché of Louise developing hysterical mutism. I had to look at when this book was written because this was a popular device in TV shows many, many years ago. In fact, this book is much more recent. Hysterical mutism, from what I have read, is a very rare condition that almost always lasts only a very short time, unlike the situation with Louise.
Then we have the cliché of Louise, as horse tamer for the Duke, trying to track down a lost horse. She meets a handsome young man alone in the woods and mistakes him for a poacher. He, too, seems to have a special relationship with horses. Needless to say, those of us who have seen this plot twist a million times knew at once that he was the King of France. How he got out in the woods all alone, with no guards or entourage, remains a mystery not addressed in the book.
Well, it goes on. Of course there is a romance. It’s a bit different in that Louise feels very guilty. The King is married, but she gives in and has sexual relations with him because she truly loves him. The sex is certainly not covered in graphic detail, and it’s much less explicit than any teen can see on TV any evening.
At this point in the book, I was becoming extremely bored and realized, essentially, there’s not much of a story here. I was still thinking the book would be good for a teen. But then we come to a scene where the king performs a sex act (again, it’s not too graphic or specific) that is somewhat shocking to Louise, although she goes along with the king’s desires. But it’s his reaction, and her reaction to him, that made me (figuratively speaking) toss this book. He becomes angry with her and starts calling her a whore. Later he again becomes angry with her and calls her a whore again. He does not strike her, but he breaks things in the room. She grovels. What is this, a manual for how to become a doormat? At that point, I hated him and lost all interest in her, and considering the rather trivial nature of the book, I stopped reading.
I had already purchased one of the author’s books on Josephine de Beauharnais, but I no longer have any interest in reading it. More of the same? Not for me.