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Mistress of the Sun: A Novel Paperback – April 7, 2009
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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It seemed when reading MISTRESS OF THE SUN that the very walls of my room opened and became palace stairways rushed down, a wood where lovers meet, a stable with a wild white horse, a kindly, complex father with his wood rosary beads, the daily combination of courtly protocol and jewelry with heartbreak, the stinks and smells of chamberpots, and the crowds jammed into breathless bedchambers to witness the life and death struggle of royal childbirth. To Petite and the others, the sense of God watching their human failures every moment is as vivid as their own breath. But the main journey belongs to the devout, physically daring and sensitive Petite who falls truly in love with the married Louis; her tragedy (and his) is that he is also King, and the more he becomes King, the more she loses the man on whom she has centered her life. And the further her life centers on him, the more his world begins to crush her vivid, honest, loving spirit until she is in danger of losing the girl she once was: a child of six who wanted to stand, as she had once seen a gypsy woman do, on the back of a galloping horse.
I am the author of CLAUDE AND CAMILLE: A NOVEL OF MONET (Crown, April 2010), MARRYING MOZART (Penguin)and etc. [...]
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.