I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles #1
Published by Atria Books on 1st September 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
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, naive Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne, will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power.
I’m pretty picky about the blog tours I take part in nowadays, and will only sign up if I know I’m going to enjoy the book. So of course I knew I would enjoy The Sisters of Versailles – whilst I’m not a fan of romance novels, I do enjoy a bit of steamy historical fiction – but I didn’t realise just how much I would enjoy it. Told from the point of view of the Nesle sisters, this novel is unique in that whilst its main characters were historical figures, very little has been written about them in English. Four of the five Nesle sisters became mistresses to King Louis XV of France, and whilst this was of course a huge scandal at the time, it doesn’t seem to be something that has been recorded quite as much as you would think. In fact, I’m pretty sure more people would be nore familiar with Madame de Pompadour, another of Louis XV’s mistresses, than Louise, Marie-Anne, Hortense, Diane or Paulie Nesle.
From the very first chapter of the book, I got a really clear and vivid image of life at Versailles. It seemed so colourful and fast-paced, but there was also something darker hiding in the shadows, hinting at what was yet to come. The reader sees it all at first through the eyes of Louise, the eldest of the Nesle sisters and the first to go to Versailles. From the moment the sisters become of a suitable age for marriage, they are obsessed with the idea of it – so it is so sad that Louise’s marriage, to a man twenty years her senior, makes her feel so lonely. Her husband is an imbecile and a horrendous person; when her mother dies he complains of the ‘inconvenience’ of having to travel to Paris to help his grieving wife. Therefore it is completely understandable when she is persuaded by the ladies of the court to have an affair, after all everyone is doing it. But then Louise comes to the attention of the king, and everything changes.
Whilst each sister narrates at least one chapter each, their voices didn’t feel entirely distinctive. They had very clear cut personalities though: Diane the slob, Louise the naive one, Hortense the pious one, Marie-Anne a revolutionary in the making, and Pauline, determined to get whatever she wanted despite the consequences. Pauline’s letters, not so subtly hinting to Louise that she deserved a visit to Versailles, were kind of hilarious. At first I quite liked Pauline, but her later actions turned me against her. Watching her steal the man her sister loves, then reading Louise’s point of view of the whole experience was pretty heartbreaking. Marie-Anne was a surprise, going from seemingly innocent to a real schemer.
As time went on, I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for Louise or whether I want to just shake her and shout ‘Get a grip!’. It was sad watching her pine after someone she couldn’t have, who was clearly not interested in her anymore, whilst sister after sister replaced her. I don’t know how Louis XV is represented in history (having studied his grandson Louis XVI in much more depth), but in this he felt so shallow. He wasn’t outright mean, but the way he treated people, especially women, as objects that he could just use and then toss aside when the next exciting thing came along, was abhorrent. He did it without people even realising they were being replaced until it was too late.
I’m so glad I got the chance to read and review The Sisters of Versailles. I have found the whole ancien regime period of French history very interesting ever since I studied it in school, and I’m always happy to read historical fiction set in that era. What I really loved here was learning about historical figures that aren’t widely written about, and the whole scandalous history of the Nesle sisters. How is the fact that Louis XV slept with four sisters not as widely known as his affairs with Madame de Pompadour? History does love a good scandal, after all.