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 KEarly 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.
Louise de Mailly-Nesle (Comtesse de Mailly), the eldest, was beautiful, demure, and a bit naive. Pauline de Mailly-Nesle (Marquise de Vintimille) was forceful, strong-willed and resourceful. Diane de Mailly-Nesle (Duchesse de Lauraguais) was lazy, laid-back and jolly. Hortense de Mailly-Nesle (Marquise de Flavacourt)–the most beautiful sister–was pious and judgmental. Marie Anne de Mailly-Nesle (Marquise de La Tournelle, Duchesse de Châteauroux), the youngest, was clever and cunning.
The story begins with the sisters’ childhood in their aristocratic, though rather poorly run home. Their mother was a court lady with a reputation, and their father an alcoholic marquis. The sisters were separated in their teens, either by marriage, convent or shuffled between the homes of distant relations. Eventually each would find her way to court, and to the King.
Louis the King was under the influence of Cardinal Fleury, who made all decisions while the king enjoyed his pastimes. For Pauline, and then in turn Marie Anne, this was an insufferable arrangement, for they wanted more control. It is Anne Marie who guides the King into participating with the war efforts against Austria. The workings of the court is, as always, an interesting facet and will appeal to those who enjoy royal fiction.
This novel encompasses mid-18th century France beautifully–from the splendor of Versailles, to Paris and the Provinces. Through the voices of the sisters, growing up with varying points of view, the reader is able to see this fascinating world in panoramic view. It is a greatly detailed and perfectly paced story, with dialog that may seem a little modern to discerning readers, but does have its charm.
The first in a trilogy, The Sisters of Versailles will be followed by The Rivals of Versailles and The Enemies of Versailles....more
Penelope Devereux, daughter of Lettice Knollys, the woman Queen Elizabeth I called the “She-Wolf” for marrying the royal favorite, is pitted against tPenelope Devereux, daughter of Lettice Knollys, the woman Queen Elizabeth I called the “She-Wolf” for marrying the royal favorite, is pitted against the Essex faction’s rival, Robert Cecil, in this panoramic Tudor narrative. Penelope, beautiful, level-headed and witty, makes a perfect waiting lady and voice for the out-of-favor Devereux family, though it is her brother who catches the Queen’s attention.
Robert Cecil, son of the Queen’s most trusted advisor, Lord Burghley, has loathed Robert Devereux since childhood, when the latter joined in to bully the physically weak Cecil. Thus an enmity existed when they each became an important fixture at court. Penelope, ever her brother’s champion, lead the family through the tangle of intrigues, deftly extracting herself from scandal time and again. Cecil, however, recognized her as the intelligent schemer she was, but was also devastatingly attracted to her. He continuously warred with himself over his desire to bring the family down.
At over 500 pages, this is a detailed story, but one that holds the attention and doesn’t unnecessarily lag. Penelope is an interesting lead with her relationship with the poet Philip Sydney, and famous role as Stella in the sonnet Astrophil and Stella. While this builds her personality, she is a character who grows up within the pages–probably all the more noticeable next her brother’s instability. Cecil, also intriguing, has redeeming qualities while dealing with his own demons. Their political tête-à-tête becomes the main theme of the story, and even if the reader isn’t quite taken with the Essex agenda, Penelope remains the true protagonist.
The only possible issue with this book is its size, but as it doesn’t bore, this isn’t a problem for voracious readers. Historically sound details, expertly crafted dialog, and a satisfying pace set this novel apart from others in the genre. It is highly recommended for Tudor enthusiasts–especially those interested in the twilight of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and the lesser-known character of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury....more
Set during the Belle Époque era, The Hours Before is the story of Deborah Peters, a once-celebrated clairvoyant turned dejected society matron, who isSet during the Belle Époque era, The Hours Before is the story of Deborah Peters, a once-celebrated clairvoyant turned dejected society matron, who is bent on revenge and readying herself for a final assignation with her adversary. Readers take a backward look at the events leading up to the protagonist’s current wretched state, and uncover the step-by-step truth of her daughter’s mysterious disappearance and possible demise.
Penelope Peters, an English twenty-something student studying in Europe, is caught up in an occultist group focused on turn-of-the-century doomsday. Her father, Hugh Peters, is the head of a popular gossip newspaper which has of late determined to smear his ex-wife’s name and ruin her while covering up his daughter’s scandalous affiliations. Deborah, increasingly desperate financially and mentally, treks across the continent in search of clues. Meanwhile, in steps Herman “Manny” Grace, a gentleman magician, who takes a special interest in Deborah’s plight. Together they discover a most unusual occult society with disturbing connections to Europe’s rich and powerful.
This novel offers an interesting look at apocalyptic lore, as well as the inner workings of the media’s damage control during the time period. While Deborah is an eccentric, but admirable character, Manny overtakes the story with his eloquence, intelligence and heroism. Parry, as usual, has a proficient grasp on the era, introducing readers to the customs and society of the budding twentieth century. The Hours Before will delight those who enjoy mannered characters, uncommon plots and a slight bit of mystery, though, at 400+ pages, is not a quick read. ...more
Those familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth will recognize from this story the characters of Banquo, Fleance and the Three Weird Sisters. While they setThose familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth will recognize from this story the characters of Banquo, Fleance and the Three Weird Sisters. While they set the stage, the protagonist throughout most of the narrative is Walter Stewart—beginning with his early life as a Welsh outcast, to his glory days as the King of Scots’ confidante. Malcom III’s defeat over Macbeth, William the Conqueror’s Battle of Hastings and the subsequent uprisings in Northern England are among the action filled pages.
This story is a perfect introduction to 11th century Scotland, England and Wales (and even a bit of Brittany), with minute descriptions of the kingdoms and their people and ways of life. I tend to read and review books with a female protagonist, but had no trouble emphasizing with Walter and his plight. Anyone interested in the events of the 1066 Norman invasion of England will find a detailed account, with particular eloquence regarding battle scenes that even those not inclined to war novels will appreciate. There is a bit of romance, never overly described, and a host of admirable characters. Walter’s transition is the most remarkable facet of the novel, and I would liken him to Elizabeth Chadwick’s William Marshal from The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion. I was also intrigued to meet several characters mentioned in Jean Plaidy’s Norman trilogy....more