Karleen Koen is one of my favorite historical fiction authors. Her first novel, Through a Glass Darkly is on my list of all-time favorite historical fiction novels, and I also loved the sequel, Now Face to Face, and prequel, Dark Angels. Her writing makes history come alive through descriptions of wonderful characters and settings, and narratives that provide all types of mystery and surprises. I was more than a little excited to be able to be a stop on the TLC book tour for Karleen Koen’s new novel, Before Versailles.
Koen does not disappoint in Before Versailles. Louis XIV is the young king of France in 1661 just coming into his own. He has recently married the Spanish Infanta, Maria Theresa, but finds himself entranced with his sister-in-law Henrietta (sister to England’s King Charles II). Although every woman in the court wants the handsome young King, he wants the one woman most forbidden to him. Their love affair starts a scandal that engulfs the court.
At the same time, Louis XIV is learning to rule without his minister Cardinal Mazarin. Jean-Baptiste Colbert is helping him to learn about the finances of his government. As the King learns more, he learns the deep corruption that is going on in his court with money flowing directly to the minister of finance’s pocket rather than the King’s coffers. Louis XIV is also receiving mysterious threatening letters.
Louise de la Baume le Blanc is an innocent maid of honor to Madam (Henriette) who finds herself caught up in the intrigue. When Louise sees a mysterious boy in an iron mask in the woods on the day of the death of Cardinal Mazarin, she starts a hunt of her own through the woods to discover the whereabouts and secret behind the boy in the iron mask. Her actions find her threatened by a strange musketeer and fearing for her life. When Louise attracts the attentions of her King, her life is about to change forever.
There are many characters in Before Versailles that are intriguing including (but definitely not limited to) Henriette, the Queen Dowager Anne, and Charles d’Artagnan. I was intrigued when I first read of d’Artagnan as being the lieutenant of Louis XIV’s musketeers in this novel and had to look it up on my friend Wikipedia. I thought d’Artagnan was only a fictional character in Dumas Three Musketeers and other novels, but it turns out he was a real historical character. Intriguing! Louis was surrounded by a lot of powerful women in his time including his mother and his sister-in-law. While his wife was shy and retiring, Henriette had a fiery personality and was trend setter in the court. Every man wanted her and every woman wanted to be her. It was only natural that the king would also find himself in love with her. Queen Anne was mourning the loss of the Cardinal, but finds her way back to court after unsavory rumors about Henriette and Louis reach her ears. She tries to use what power she still has to set things to right.
I love Koen’s writing in this novel. Her descriptions of the characters, setting, and time period are unparalled. I felt like I was at Fontainebleau. The romance between different characters is very sensual and sparks definitely fly. Even more than this, I really enjoyed the conspiracy. I wanted to find out who the boy in the iron mask was and who was writing the letters. Throughout it all, it was a great character study of the growth of Louis XIV from a boy king to an all-powerful King ruling on his own terms. I greatly enjoyed the journey.
Overall, Before Versailles is a riveting historical fiction novel full of unforgettable characters, great prose, and intrigue that is not to be missed. I highly recommend it.
I read this book as part of the TLC book tour. To read more about Before Versailles, please check out any of these other stops on the tour (links are provided on the TLC Tour Site).
Tuesday, July 5th: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Wednesday, July 6th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, July 7th: The Bookworm
Friday, July 8th: Historical-Fiction.com
Monday, July 11th: In the Hammock
Tuesday, July 12th: Living Outside the Stacks
Wednesday, July 13th: The Maiden’s Court
Thursday, July 14th: Royal Reviews
Monday, July 18th: Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, July 19th: Enchanted by Josephine
Wednesday, July 20th: Laura’s Reviews
Thursday, July 21st: Historical Tapestry AND Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Friday, July 22nd: Books Like Breathing
Monday, July 25th: Stiletto Storytime
Tuesday, July 26th: Hist-Fic Chick
Wednesday, July 27th: Life in Review
Thursday, July 28th: Reading, Reading & Life
Before Versailles is my sixteenth book in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.
Book Source: Review Copy from Random House. Thank-you!
Random House is going to send one lucky winner a copy of Before Versailles by Karleen Koen.
If you would like to win a copy of Before Versailles by Karleen Koen please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel.
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.
For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.
For another additional entry, leave a comment (along with your email address) on my interview with Karleen Koen at this link.
I will be using random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.
This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).
No P.O. Boxes.
The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday August 5th.