(Cover picture courtesy of Kingston WritersFest.)
Set against the magnificent decadence of Louis XIV’s Versailles, Mistress of the Sun is the extraordinary story of Louise de la Vallière, the beautiful young equestrienne who won the heart of France’s charismatic Sun King. The spirited child of minor nobility, unable to marry and too poor to join a convent, Louise grows up to become a consort of the King, capturing—and then tragically losing—his favour. A riveting love story with a captivating mystery at its heart, Mistress of the Sun illuminates both the power of true love and our reckless attempts to capture and tame it.
Historical romance isn’t something I often read, but when I do make an exception to my rule I’m almost always impressed. Sandra Gulland succeeded in sucking me in to the world of King Louis XIV and his tumultuous, backstabbing court. It’s not often that I really believe how authors set up romances between known historical characters, but the one between Louise and Louis was quite natural. It was gradual, but with an undeniable, mysterious attraction.
Of course this book focuses more on characters than on plot. That’s a good thing because Louise carries the story on her shoulders quite well. She’s not a heroine with modern sensibilities that you tend to see cropping up in historical fiction: she believes her love of Louis outside marriage is sinful and wrestles with the guilt that comes with it. Yes, she rides horses well and can be one of the boys, so to speak, but she actually has the perspective a woman of her time would have. Louis himself is an enigmatic character as well. Sometimes he acts like a King, other times a normal young man and still other times a cruel man. His character is complex but you can’t help but see why Louise falls in love with him.
Although Sandra Gulland chose to use composite characters to simplify the plot, the main players in the story are real. And although I can’t vouch completely for her accuracy, judging from the fact that she devoted an entire blog to talking about her research, I’d say Mistress of the Sun is pretty accurate. Since I don’t know much about the time the simplifications of plot and characters don’t annoy me, so I don’t think most people will mind. It’s just a great novel, through and through.
I give this book 5/5 stars.