Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV by Karleen Koen
Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Crown (June 28, 2011)
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:
Karleen Koen's newest novel represents several firsts for me. Before Versailles is the first novel on Louis XIV that I've read, therefore it offers my first characterization of Louis and his contemporaries. Secondly, this is my first Karleen Koen novel, even though I've ogled her previous books and been told many times that I absolutely must read them. I do own them and have already let my mother read them (who devoured them all in a short amount of time) and now I am certainly looking forward to all those novels after enjoying Before Versailles so much!
Since this is my first novel that deals with Louis XIV, please realize that I really have no way of differentiating from the gossip, rumors, scandals or facts that Koen utilizes in her magnificent storytelling. Before Versailles focuses on a specific four months of the reign of Louis soon after the powerful Cardinal Mazarin passes away in 1661. The Cardinal and the Queen mother, Anne, were known to have a close relationship, but how close was any one's guess. Louis realizes it is now time to take over the reigns of the government after the passing of the Cardinal, and he begins to learn of the treachery amongst his family and courtiers. And while he is focusing on the politics of his court with a lookout for more revolts, he is also eyeing Henriette, his brother's wife whom everyone adores. Henriette is portrayed as a bored woman stuck in a loveless relationship, and happily wreaks romantic havoc throughout Louis' court, as she tells the King to court other girls as well as her to divert some of the rumors surrounding her own conduct with the King.
|Louise de La Baume Le Blanc|
Besides the relationships of Louis and his dalliances with women, the novel touches upon Viscount Nicolas as we watch Louis and his main man Colbert slowly gather damning evidence against the Viscount who was becoming a threat to Louis due to his own wealth and powerful connections. The Viscount is not aware of the concerns of the King, and blindly hopes for a high position under Louis's wing. It was all very entertaining and suspenseful to read and witness the Viscount's downfall, learning the ways of the early reign of Louis before he was known as the Sun King. Louis was portrayed in a most positive light as a strong and powerful young man with a growing leadership ability, yet with the faults of having a soft heart as well. The women at court were catty and snobby and the men encouraged it as they took advantage of whatever they could get. I really enjoyed how the intricacies (and scandals!) of the storyline played out because there were quite a few of them running concurrently. Behind the scenes of Louis' courtships and political machinations, there was always the running current of Louise's girlish curiosity of a mysterious boy in an iron mask which slams her into reality when she finally tells the King of this strange boy she saw at a monastery.
|"L'Homme au Masque de Fer" ("The Man in the Iron Mask") 1789|