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 Trilogy #1
Published: 2015 by Atria Books
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
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The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie is a novel about five sisters, four of whom were mistresses to King Louis XV of France. When the Nelse sisters were young, their mother died. The eldest sister, Louise, took her mother’s position at court, where she meets Louis XV, just as he was beginning to tire of his Polish wife. As each of the other sisters comes of age, their paths converge at Versailles, where the king finds himself enamored with the family.
The Nelse sisters have vibrant and often clashing personalities. To be honest, I didn’t actually *like* any of them, and yet they felt like real people with both strengths and flaws who are driven by their surroundings into doing what they feel like they have to in order to (arguably) live a good life.
Louise, the eldest sister, is the first to charm Louise. She’s young, kind, and incredibly naive. The king’s advisers notice that he’s getting tired of his wife, and push Louise into a relationship with him because she’s low-key and easy to manipulate. She’s not a political threat, never asks anything for herself, and doesn’t make herself a nuisance. And yet, at the same time, she’s so clueless about how the world works that she sets herself up to get hurt repeatedly in the name of love.
Then there’s Pauline, who is kind of a bitch. Pauline wants power, and will stop at nothing to get there. After spending much of her life in a convent, she comes to Versailles with the sole intention of usurping Louise as the king’s mistress. On one hand, I admire her tenacity, but there’s absolutely nothing redeeming in her character.
Marie Anne is Pauline’s nemesis. She’s highly intelligent, and for much of the book, she was my favorite character. Marie Anne was married off early, and spent her early years of marriage in the country, learning how to grow spices and perusing her husband’s book collection. After her husband dies, Marie Anne goes off the deep end and pretty much turns into Pauline. And for her, it’s not even a life she really wanted, so much as the choice that seemed most appealing after losing everything she owned and having nowhere else to go. Her relationship with Louis was her way out, but at the same time, it meant stepping on her sisters to get there, which is seriously not cool.
Diane marches to the beat of her own drum. She’s a klutz and has a hard time writing. She spent years living in a convent, and then staying with elderly relatives, and pretty much has no social skills. Louis finds her awkwardness charming, but she’s not the type of person to make a move. She’s not cunning like Pauline or Marie Anne, and it’s more like she falls into the relationship with Louis than anything else. I really enjoyed the dynamic between Diane and her husband; the two of them are both completely awkward and weird in a way that makes them work well together. Despite the fact that she always seemed a bit off, Diane was clearly the most likable of all of the sisters.
And then there’s Hortense, who never did sleep with the king, despite Louis’ interest in her. Hortense always seemed to have a holier-than-thou attitude, and used her devotion as something to hold over her sisters. She was super annoying, although she was probably the smart one, as she managed to stay out of scandal’s way and seemed to have a happy family.
The Sisters of Versailles begins and ends with a senile Hortense reflecting on the past. The bulk of the story is a flashback where each sister has alternating point-of-view chapters. It reminded me a bit of the movie Ever After, and I’m not sure if Hortense’s framing from the future was necessary.
Within the flashback, each chapter is separated by correspondence between the sisters, and the letters tend to be filled with snark and to highlight the sisters’ relationship dynamics. The letters illustrate who is sucking up to whom, who is judging whom, who’s having an argument, and how all of that changes over time. As someone who comes from a big family that loves each other dearly but doesn’t always get along, the letters resonated with me and made the characters feel more real.
I’ve read a lot of fiction about European monarchs and their various love interests, but the story of the Nelse sisters was completely new to me, and it was fascinating to take a glimpse into their world. At its heart, The Sisters of Versailles isn’t just the story of the king and his mistresses, but rather is the story of a family that lets itself be torn apart by conflicting personal interests and greed, before finally realizing the power of sororal love.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher, I am able to give away one copy of the novel (US/Canada only). Please use the Rafflecopter below to enter!