Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review: Mistress of the Sun

Summary: The author of the internationally acclaimed Josephine Bonaparte trilogy returns with another irresistible historical novel, this one based on the life of Louise de la Vallière, who, against all odds, became one of the most mysterious consorts of France's Louis XIV, the charismatic Sun King.

Set against the magnificent decadence of the seventeenth-century French court, Mistress of the Sun begins when an eccentric young Louise falls in love with a wild white stallion and uses ancient magic to tame him. This one desperate action of her youth shadows her throughout her life, changing it in ways she could never imagine.

Unmarriageable, and too poor to join a convent, Louise enters the court of the Sun King, where the king is captivated by her. As their love unfolds, Louise bears Louis four children, is made a duchess, and reigns unrivaled as his official mistress until dangerous intrigue threatens her position at court and in Louis's heart.

A riveting love story with a captivating mystery at its heart, Mistress of the Sun illuminates both the power of true and perfect love and the rash actions we take to capture and tame it.-- Touchstone

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you probably know that one of my very favorite genres is historical fiction. I love to feel that I am learning something while reading a book. It's not that I don't find history books interesting, but I will almost always pick up a novel first -- I guess I just expect to be entertained too. I don't know about you, but I, for one, want a little escapism in my reading! MISTRESS OF THE SUN by Sandra Gulland was the ideal book for me. It had great characters, an interesting story, and loads of fascinating historical information.

MISTRESS OF THE SUN is one of the best historical fiction books that I've read in recent memory. I think one of the main reasons for this is the character of Petite. The book starts out when Petite is a young girl, and I think this really gives the reader additional insight into her character and her motivations. So much of what happened to her when she was young -- from the death of her father, to her love of horses, to her relationship with her mother, to her dabbling with bone magic -- have a large impact on her for the rest of her life. Petite really was a very complex and interesting woman. I thought Ms. Gulland did a fantastic job of developing her character and making me feel as if I "knew" her.

Another thing I really liked about this book was how the author portrayed the relationships between the characters. So many of the relationships were really well developed and multi-dimensional. I found the interactions between the characters to be rather complex, and they gave me plenty to think about. I especially enjoyed reading about the love affair between Louis and Petite in its later stages, although I also found Petite's relationship with her mother to be interesting too.

As I mentioned earlier, I love to learn things when I read a book; and MISTRESS OF THE SUN was filled with so much historical data. Of course, I learned about this historical figures of this time, but I really appreciated all of the little "extras" thrown in. I was especially impressed with the information about the medical practices during this period (most were kind of gross.) And, I loved learning about all of the superstitions that people believed to explain the unexplainable. I can't even count the number of times I found myself learning something new in this book. It's just so evident to me that Ms. Gulland did a huge amount of research while writing this novel -- it took her eight years!

I have never read any books by Ms. Gulland, but I can definitely say that I will be adding all of her books to my TBR list. I can't wait to read the Josephine books! Not only did I find MISTRESS OF THE SUN to be quite interesting, but I also liked the way she told this story. I thought her writing was terrific; and the story and characters were very easy to follow -- I couldn't put this book down. Ms Gulland has a great blog where you can learn more about her as well as find loads of book club resources on all of her books.

I highly recommend MISTRESS OF THE SUN! I know that the women in my life who enjoy historical fiction books will definitely appreciate this book. I also think it would make a great book club pick, especially if your group wants to learn a little something about seventeenth-century France. There are so many great things to talk about including Petite's relationship with Louis, Petite's relationship with her parents, as well as the themes of guilt, sacrifice, and even ghosts and magic. There is also a reader's guide which will help start your discussion; and I was really impressed with how thought-provoking the questions are.

Make sure you come back tomorrow because Sandra Gulland, the author of MISTRESS OF THE SUN, will be stopping by with a terrific guest post. And as an added incentive, I will be giving away a copy of the novel to one very lucky reader!

14 comments:

Beth F said...

I'm a huge HF fan, and this book has been on my radar. Thanks for the great review. I'm definitely adding this to my wish list.

Jennsbookshelf said...

I'm a fan of historical fiction. This looks like an amazing book. I actually think this is in one of my many TBR stacks. I'm looking forward to reading it..I haven't read much about Louis XIV. Thanks for the review!

the epic rat said...

Great review! I loved this book too, especially all the minute detail that Sandra included to make the story even more real! I can't wait to see her guest post!

S. Krishna said...

I really enjoyed this book as well - now I need to write my review! Sigh...

Alaine - Queen of Happy Endings said...

That was a fantastic review. I really want to read this book now! Thanks Julie!

Amy @ Passages to the Past said...

Yeah, so glad to hear you liked it. I'm reading this one next! I have her Josephine books, but haven't read them yet...I've heard they are fantastic too!

bermudaonion said...

You know I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but I've been wanting to try more. I think I'll add this to my wish list since you recommend it so highly.

Jen - devourer of books said...

I'm very excited to read this after the baby comes this summer!

Jo-Jo said...

Great review Julie. I also love historical fiction so I think I will have to add this one to my list.

Jeannine said...

Yay for summer book reading! I'm excited - I'm even thinking of starting my very own book club.Kind of off-topic, but I signed up for this Netflix-of-books type thing called BookSwim and it's the best thing I've done in this darn recession. Curious, have you ever taken a stab at renting books?? Do you have thoughts on it?

Carrie K. said...

Great review - I'm definitely adding that one to my wish list!

Julie P. said...

Jeanne -- to answer your question, I do think Bookswim looks kind of cool. It's a terrific idea if you use it instead of buying a lot of books. I am pretty quick about reserving new books from the library so I think I'll still go that route. And since I'm at the library for my kids every week anyway, it works for me.

Melanie said...

I too love historical fiction becuase I can learn from it. I usually read English HF, so I'm sure I'll learn ALOT from this book.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I finished this one last week and loved it! Now I just need to get my review up...