Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review and Giveaway: The Sisters of Versailles

Title:  The Sisters of Versailles
Author:  Sally Christie
Pub Date:  September 1, 2015
Publisher:  Atria Books
How obtained:  Via TLC Book Tours (Edelweiss)
What is it about: 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.

My Thoughts:  I first heard about the Mailly-Nesle sisters when I was researching Hortense Mancini, one of Charles II’s mistresses, for a blog post that I ended up not writing. I was intrigued to discover that Hortense’s great granddaughters had also been royal mistresses to Louis XV. Not just one great granddaughter but four of them! You don’t come across that very often while researching Scandalous Women in history! Unfortunately there wasn’t very much information about the sisters. For some reason, no one had written a biography about the sisters which seems a shame. They seem to have been overshadowed in history by Louis’s other mistresses, Madame de Pompadour and Madame de Barry.

Thank goodness, Sally Christie, decided to write The Sisters of Versailles to rescue these fascinating women from the murky depths of history.  Anyone who has read my blog over the years has heard me bitch and moan about the plethora of books set during the Tudor period in England when the court of Versailles is even more fascinating.  The rigorous adherence to court etiquette combined with the endless backstabbing and jockeying for position for power, along with the loose morals of almost everyone at Versailles should be catnip for historical fiction writers. The Sisters of Versailles gives the reader an intimate look at the French court, peeling back the curtain to show the rot underneath. Once I started this book, I couldn’t put it down, I devoured it like a particularly tasty salted caramel macaron. I stayed up until past midnight last night to finish it, and when I was done, I felt bereft. I didn’t want to leave this intriguing but dangerous world. I wanted to continue to savor this story and these women.
The book is narrated by all five sisters, using first person POV.  Christie does a masterful job at delineating each sister so that even without the heading for each chapter, the reader knows instantly who is narrating the story at any given time. It’s a remarkably accomplishment for a first time novelist. They are so vibrant, they fairly leap off the page. 

Although the sisters come from the noblest backgrounds, they start the novel of with a disadvantage, they are poor by aristocratic standards. Their father has pretty much gambled away their inheritances, each of them can only expect 7,500 livres for a dowry.  Their mother who is beautiful but feckless, spends most of her time at Versailles, leaving the sisters under the supervision of their governess. Louise, the eldest, is sweet, idealistic and naïve. 

She is married off to a distant cousin who neglects her, her mother-in-law despises her for being unable to produce an heir. Louise longs to be part of the glittering court, for her life to start. She gets her wish when she is appointed a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. When it looks like the King’s interest in the Queen is waning, Louise is pushed to become the King’s first mistress. Although she knows that she is committing a sin, Louise falls hopelessly in love with Louis. She reminds me very much of another Louise, Louise de la Valliere, the mistress of Louis XIV.  Louise de la Valliere was also pushed into the arms of Louis XIV to combat the rumors of the King’s relationship with his sister-in-law. Both women loved the King more as a man than a sovereign, and both love affairs end unhappily.

When their mother dies, the four remaining sisters are split up.  Pauline and Diane are sent to a convent and Hortense and Marie-Anne are sent to live with their Tante Mazarin. Pauline’s letters to Louise at court are hilarious as she takes every opportunity to try and convince Louise to bring her to court or to find her a husband. Pauline is ambitious for power and advancement, to make her mark on the world.  She’s also intelligent and bossy. She’s that girl in school who gets things done but who is also a pain in the ass.  What I love about Pauline is that she doesn’t really care about making friends or people liking her.  She has one goal and she achieves it, even at the expense of her sister.

The heart of the book is really about sisterhood, what do you do when the people who should have your back, your family, stab you in the back? Even before the sisters are torn apart by the deaths of their mother, there is a clear divide in the family, and how they remember their childhoods. Marie-Anne, the youngest, is a hard, glittering diamond, who will stop at nothing to achieve power when the King sets his sights on her.  And then there is poor Diane, not the sharpest tool in the shed, silly, sweet Diane who loves everyone, even the unlovable Pauline.  I think Diane was one of my favorite characters in the book, she only wants to be happy and to have lovely things to eat, to gossip and wear pretty clothes. She’s probably the most uncomplicated of the five sisters. And there is Hortense, the good one, the only one to survive to a ripe old age.


Christie offers a wealth of period detail, from the descriptions of the rooms at Versailles, to the clothing, the backstairs maneuvering, all offered in a lively, modern tone. She doesn’t try to mimic the intricate writing style of the 18th century. Instead imagine an 18th century version of Vanity Fair magazine. If you love period films or novels like Ridicule or Les Liaisons dangereuses, you will love The Sisters of Versailles.

Giveaway (US only)


- To enter, please leave a comment below and include your email address (only comments with email addresses will be entered in the giveaway).
- If you are not a follower and become one, you get an extra entry
- If you tweet about the giveaway, you get an extra entry.
- If you like my Scandalous Women Facebook page, you get an extra entry.

Good luck!
- Giveaway ends on August 26th.

13 comments:

Rita Gibson said...

Thank you for sharing this! I love being introduced to an author I've not yet met (Sally, in this case!) AND also getting the treat of being introduced to historical people (women in particular) like these sisters who I not had the pleasure of reading anything about yet. New territory! When one thinks of it, there must be so many historical people that have not been written about - I hope this makes us all try to think of some and then research and write about them. Thank you for the marvelous double introduction!

traveler said...

Thanks for this fascinating historical which interests me greatly. This novel sounds intriguing and unique. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

MamaMunky said...

Sounds so good! LindseyAylward at yahoo.com

Lisa said...

lnhoge at gmail.com

Samantha Whittaker said...

I am an avid follower of women in history - I'm enthralled at learning about different women and how they used seduction and femininity to yield power. I am so grateful to you for bringing this new novel to my attention as it is a story that I desperately would love to read just based on your review of it >>> Please email me at covergirlsam(at)hotmail(dot)com

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for being a part of the tour!

TarheelFIT1 said...

This book sounds great! Thanks so much for the giveaway! I tweeted, followed you via bloglovin, and liked your facebook page (Jennifer Clayton). Tarheelfit1 (at) gmail (dot) com

Blathering said...

Sounds like a fascinating book!

Nadine Tatum said...

I am a great fan of historical fiction and would love to read this novel. It sounds like a good possibility for the book club I facilitate, "The Literary Ladies of the Evening" (a scandalous group of bluestockings). My email address is hope_olam@yahoo.com.

Nadine Tatum said...

I am a great fan of historical fiction and would love to read this novel. It looks to be a good possibility for the 2016 reading list of the book club I facilitate. "The Literary Ladies of the Evening" (a scandalous group of bluestockings ranging in age from 40-somthing to almost 90-something). We've been in dialogue since 2001. My email is hope_olam@yahoo.com.

guest said...

Thank you for this giveaway!

jennyfermeier at gmail dot com

norajeans said...

Did I make it?

mstlcmn said...

This book sounds exactly like the kind of read I love and I am looking forward to discovering this new to me author! Thanks so much for the giveaway! I followed at bloglovin, liked on Facebook and tweeted! my email is mstlcmn at gmail.com