The Sisters of Versailles
A Novel of Historical Fiction
by Sally Christie
Early in the reign of France’s Louis XV–before the infamous Madame de Pompadour and the hated Madame du Barry–a series of sisters captured the young King’s heart. Of the five Nesle sisters, all but one became mistress to Louis the Well-Beloved. This sister is the only one who lived beyond the French Revolution, and this is her story through letters and a collection of chapters written in first person by each sister. Because there are five different perspectives, each character has the chance to introduce the reader to her world–and though they were sisters, they were vastly different.
“An intriguing romp through Louis XV’s France. Filled with lush backdrops, rich detail, and colorful characters, fans of historical fiction will enjoy this glimpse into the lost golden era of the French monarchy.” (Allison Pataki, author of The Accidental Empress)
“A stunning breadth of period detail, offered in a fresh, contemporary voice.” (Juliet Grey, author of the acclaimed Marie Antoinette trilogy)
“Tantalizing descriptions and cliff-hangers will leave the reader rapidly turning the pages in anticipation…A wickedly delightful read.” (New York Daily News)
Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear.
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 feet—and women—forward. The King’s scheming ministers push sweet, naïve Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, she and three of her younger sisters—ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne—will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power as each becomes the king’s favorite for a time.
In the tradition of The Other Boleyn Girl, The Sisters of Versailles is a clever, intelligent, and absorbing novel that historical fiction fans will devour. Based on meticulous research on a group of women never before written about in English, Sally Christie’s stunning debut is a complex exploration of power and sisterhood—of the admiration, competition, and even hatred that can coexist within a family when the stakes are high enough.
The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie is a 2015 Atria publication.
Philippa Gregory books made me a lover of Historical Fiction, The Other Boleyn Girl being among my favorites. Unfortunately, for me this endeavor by Sally Christie didn’t quite measure up.
I knew little about the Nesle sisters and, of course, found it interesting, to say the least, that four of the five sisters wound up being the mistress to King Louis the XV. Can you imagine such sibling rivalry!
The time period was also a draw as well as the setting. Although my favorite time periods are the Tudor era in British history and Scottish history around Culloden, I decided on a break from those times.
The story got off to a very slow start and I really struggled to stay interested. Once Louise ensconces herself into the king’s life as his first mistress, the story did start to improve, but Louise was a tepid character and it wasn’t until Pauline arrived at Versailles that the power struggle began between the sisters.
The author is forthcoming about the lack of materials available on the sisters, with Marie-Anne being a possible exception.
She managed to form a portrait of each sister, allowing us to get a relatively accurate picture of each one’s character individually. This was not a bad idea, but the lack of dialogue made the story hard to follow at times. There is some dialog between characters, but it is sorely lacking, making the story rather dry and dull for extended periods of time. Without some kind of witty, sinister or humorous banter between the characters, the story was missing the element that could have made it great.
The reader is given a very in depth look at each sister, is privy to her private thoughts, witnesses her deeds, and watches as she either sinks or swims. But, the author also ties the ladies together showing their bond as sisters. Despite their back stabbing and jockeying for position, they still feel pain and sympathy for one another, showing how firmly rooted family ties can be. I still found it rather dull reading about each sister’s thoughts and feelings individually rather than combining it into a dialog between characters.
Writing a fictionalized account of the Nesle sisters is quite an ambitious undertaking and I think the author did an admirable job of creating the atmosphere at court, the political climate in France, and the fragile place each woman found herself in, suffering from disappointments in love, craving power and influence, and paying the ultimate price.
Only one sister, Hortense, was wise enough to pass on the opportunity to be the king’s confidante and lover. Although her life wasn’t fabulous, she lived by her own standards and in the end, she’s the only one who lived to tell the tale. It’s her voice that starts this sordid tale and her voice is the last we hear as she summarizes the ambition of her sisters, or lack of it, the tragedies, the triumphs and the long lasting effect these sisters had on a king, his politics and France.
Overall the book was very choppy but has some moments of brilliance. It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, or expecting, but it was still worth my time to read it.
I give it 3.25 stars.
I was provided a free digital ARC copy of this book by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.