Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Before Versailles by Karleen Koen Review and Giveaway!

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:
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!

Giveaway Details
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 (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.

Good luck!


  1. Another great giveaway I'm hoping to win!!!!Thanks!!


  2. I own Through a Glass, Darkly and Dark Angels but haven't gotten around to reading them yet! I have a feeling I'll love them (as I love historical fic) so would love to add this to the list!

    Benz1966 at gmail dot com

  3. Thanks for the review and giveaway!
    The time period of Before Versailles is what interests me; the only French monarch I've heard much about is Marie Antoinette and I need to fix that. :)

    susanna DOT pyatt AT student DOT rcsnc DOT org

  4. I've had this on my kindle since it came out and I've been slowly reading it in tiny little snatches, barely up to page 50, if that. But after reading your review it's really perked me up and I'm going to finally once and for all dig in to it! I've loved her other books too! Interesting reading more about Monsieur and Madame from Dark Angels! Thanks!

  5. Thanks for this amazing giveaway! I love historical fiction because it is such a nice way to learn history! I am very fascinated by Louis XIV and would love to know more about his live and the people surrounding him and your review of the book makes me want to read it even more!

    susanw28 (at) mindspring (dot) com

  6. Louis was such an amazing ruler and it will be interesting to learn the story before the story. I'd love to win. I placed the entry on my sidebar here

  7. I have Through A Glass Darkly, but I haven't read it yet, either!

    Your review is full of excitement! While I do not regularly read pieces from this time period, I would consider picking it up. I'm intrigued how Koen weaves a real historical figure into a novel.

    readingwritinglife (at) gmail (dot) com.

  8. Also blogged about it here:

    readingwritinglife (at) gmail (dot) com.

  9. I love historical novels so would love to win.

    littleone AT shaw DOT ca

  10. I've only ever read about Louis XIV after Versailles was built so I'd love to read about him before. Thanks for the giveaway!

  11. Great review -- I just reviewed this for the tour and loved it. It was my first Koen but I was hopeful -- and it didn't disappoint. What I found amazing was that I liked all the characters, even the 'villains' -- I thought they were so well done.

  12. I am shocked, I thought that d’Artagnan was only a fictional character too!!! I am very interested in the boy with the iron mask. It seems that this book is full to wonderful things to discover. Please enter me, hoping, hoping!


  13. This would be completely new historical territory for me. Would love to give it a try. =)
    tiredwkids at live dot com

  14. i love historical fictions, so this book is right up my alley!!!! can't wait to read it!!!!
    thank you for the giveaway!!!

    sharing on my FB page:


  15. "Through a Glass Darkly" (which I do have)!! Wow!!

    I did not know Karleen Koen wrote beyond that book! (I must admit, I did not "go searching"!). Would love to win "Before Versailles". Your review, Laura, pulls me back in toward your summary of the novel.

    I have Tweeted this Giveaway for you - that's a first for me - hope it works out well for you.

    I am not sure why some members use the words DOT and AT, instead of the symbols. I am thinking it is somehow related to hacking. In any event I will try that out - another first.

    Choose Joy!

    madley AT cogeco DOT ca

  16. Sounds like a truly wonderful read! Thanks for being on the tour.

  17. Audra - Great comment! I agree, ALL of the characters in this novel were so well written. When the "evil" character got his due at the end of the novel, I felt kind of bad for him as he was so well written. Koen was able to take a large cast of characters and make you care about each individual character. It is quite an accomplishment!

  18. What intrigues me about this novel is the time period, I'm looking forward to learning more about this era.
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

  19. I commented on the interview with Karleen Koen at the link you provided.
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

  20. I love Historical fiction novels, plus i'm like obssesed with Monarchy, it would be interesting to read this, thanks.


  21. What intrigues me? Court scandal! :) I haven't read too many historicals on the French court, so this would be a chance to fill that vacancy in my reading!

    tnshadylady at

  22. Historical fiction is my all time favorite genre and I would love to find out more about this French court and all the drama that surrounds it :). I have heard such wonderful things about the novel and would love the chance to win a copy.

  23. I love historical fiction but tend to concentrate too heavily on WWI and II. I need a good book from a different time period and this one sounds great!

  24. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. I especially like the one's dealing with royalty & their courts - illicit love, intrigue, betrayal.
    Thanks for the giveaway!
    megalon22 at yahoo dot com

  25. I left a comment on the interview.
    megalon22 at yahoo dot com