Monday, July 18, 2011

Before Versailles by Karleen Koen

Title: Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV
Author: Karleen Koen

Genre: Fiction (Historical / French / 17th century)
Publisher/Publication Date: Crown (6/28/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked very much!
Did I finish?: Yes -- I kept daydreaming about returning to it whenever I had to stop.
One-sentence summary: Seven months in 1661 at the king's palace in Fontainebleau, France are filled with intrigue, romance, mischief, and mystery as a young lady-in-waiting navigates life at court.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes, although it's a bit simple, it appeals to me, and has hints of Koen's previous covers (plus I love it when the covers accurately portray the setting -- in this case, Fontainebleau Palace).

I'm reminded of...: Sandra Gulland, Anya Seton

First line: Intelligent, virile, handsome, a man who made himself master of all he surveyed, Louis XIV was the foremost figure of his age.

Did... I get lost in this book every time I picked it up?: YES. This is a deliciously chunky historical that sucked me in from the start.

Was... I slightly apprehensive that I wouldn't dig this novel since it's loosely part of a series?: YES.  But it was an unwarranted fear -- this a fantastic stand alone novel (and I've read some reviews that say the connection to the other novels is very slight).

Did... I want Louise to be my bestie?: YES.  Sometimes the innocent-among-the-wolves grates on me, but I just loved Koen's articulation of her character -- brave and cautious in equal part, mesmerised by the glittering world she's in, growing more and more aware of how her life and expectations are being shaped and changed.  I would love to be a lady-in-waiting with her!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy as you can afford, but definitely consider this novel whether you're new to Koen's works or an old fan.  It's a perfect summer getaway read.

Why did I get this book?: I'm a big Francophile and have heard nothing but rave reviews bout Koen's previous novels.

Review: I understand now why Koen has such a devoted following.  This deliciously huge novel has a fantastic cast, a fabulous setting, delicious intrigue, romance, and drama.  Set during 1661, after Louis' prime minister Cardinal Mazarin died, the novel follows Louise, a lady-in-waiting for the stunning, energetic, and inspiring Madame Henriette -- the king's sister-in-law.

Those who've read Dumas' The Man in the Iron Mask (or seen one of the films) will immediately notice one of the stories plot lines, but it is one of a few threads woven through the novel.  Koen blends historical fact and historical legend to create an engrossing and bittersweet story about privilege, love, loyalty, and excess.

I found I loved all the characters, heroes and villains alike, especially as the heroes and villains shifted and changed as the story went on.  No one felt stock or cardboard flat which made the shimmering changes in loyalties feel realistic.  I can't imagine what it would be like to live as a courtier at Fontainebleau but Koen's storytelling made it real for me -- and so, at moments, I wanted to be one of the ladies there and at other moments, I was so grateful I wasn't.

I really enjoyed Koen's writing style; I would almost describe it as literary hist fic.  She has her solid frame of historical detail that make up the bulk of her narrative -- but she punctuates a scene or moment with a lovely line or two that mixes presentiment and fact, poetry and prose.  For me, it enhanced the general bittersweet tone to the story; we know what the characters don't: how Louis will change as he grows, how his court will change, the courtiers, the country.

For anyone who wants a royal armchair escape, I recommend this one!

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!  I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Before Versailles to one lucky reader. To enter, leave a comment with an email address. Open to US/CA readers, closes August 5th. For another entry, be sure to comment on my interview with author Karleen Koen -- coming soon!


  1. I did like it and yes Louise was sweet, but too sweet in the end. That is what happened afterwards

  2. I've been looking for some solid historical fiction to delve into, and this might be just the thing. I love that you describe it as literary. An interesting story is fine, but for me it's excellent writing that makes a story come alive. Great review!

  3. @Blodeuedd: Have you read Koen's other novels? I got two from the library and I just bought one -- they're also nice looking chunksters!

    @Jenna: I highly recommend this -- it's a nice brick of a novel, too, and will occupy some time pleasantly. I can't wait to see what you think of it if you do decide to read it.

  4. I haven't heard of this (book or series) before now but it looks liek soemthing I'd like, espcially over the summer. I'm glad it was to your liking!

  5. Me, Me, Me!! Through A Glass Darkly is one of my all time faves, and its sequel, Now Face To Face was great, too. Dying to get my hands on this one! So glad you liked it!

  6. Would really love to win this. I have never read anything by this author and I love the subject. Would like to be a future fan!

    Please enter me in this giveaway.


  7. I'm new to Koen and keep hearing nice things about her books. Would love to try.

    tiredwkids at live dot com

  8. I have been curious about this book for a long while, and am glad to hear that it met with such approval from you. It sounds excellent, and as I am a huge lover of historical fiction, I would love to read this one. Thanks for the awesome giveaway, and please do enter me!


  9. Now that I've been to Versailles I'm so intrigued! I'd love this one@


  10. Great review, Audra. I'm looking forward to reading this one. Obviously not entering this contest since the book arrived in my mailbox last week :-)

  11. sounds like a good book. and looks like your fast becoming a fan.

  12. Thanks for the review and giveaway! I was hoping to win this from GoodReads but it didn't happen; maybe I'll be luckier this time!

    susanna DOT pyatt AT student DOT rcsnc DOT org

  13. No need to enter me - I have already read/own this one! I too really enjoyed this book - and I had not read anything about this time period (or much about France in general). I hope you get the chance to read more Koen - I highly recommend Dark Angels - it is a sort of sequel to Before Versailles.

  14. Thanks for a great review and giveaway! I really like reading "court" books, but I don't think I've ever read one from this time period of even this court! I would really like to read it, so here's hoping I win :)

    jwitt33 at live dot com

  15. I am reading this at the moment and really enjoying it. Makes me wish I had read some of her other books!

    Don't enter me into the giveaway as I have it already and am not eligible anyway.

  16. I'd love to get lost in this book - but like you, I'm glad I don't have to personnally experience this period of history! Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  17. I'd love to win this one. Thanks for the opportunity :)


  18. I'm glad you liked this one, I want to read it quite badly!

  19. Karleen Koen and the Sun King!!! YAY! I'd love to read this one!!

  20. I haven't read anything else by this author and know very little about the time period, but you've made me really curious about it. Glad to hear you were able to get lost in it every time you picked it up.

    diaryofaneccentric at hotmail dot com

  21. This sounds good! Haven't read much about Louis so it should be interesting.
    I've read Through A Glass Darkly by Koen but I thought it was just ok so I'm still thinking about this one.

  22. Would love to read this! Winning it sounds great!

    slkenn79 at gmail dot com

  23. See now, you got me with "deliciously huge" - I mean seriously, how can you go wrong with that?! A book that is so good that you want it to keep going on and on, and it DOES?! Love it!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  24. Great review! I loved your comment on my review and I totally agree. Koen wrote vivid characters, there isn't a bad one among them. A lot of novel have at least one or two cardboard characters, but there wasn't one among them in this novel. I felt for the "bad" guy when he got his due at the end of the novel because Koen made me care about him.

    An excellent novel that I can't stop thinking about!

  25. thanks for the opportunity to read this novel :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  26. This one is on my wish list, I would to win it! Thanks for the chance.
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

  27. I'm in just the right mood for a lengthy historical. Thanks for the chance.

    nanze55 at hotmail dot com

  28. I cannot WAIT to read this book! It has been on my wishlist for a while now. Thanks for the giveaway.

  29. I love love lovee historical books! they are my favorites!!!

  30. Thanks for a great giveaway.

  31. Sounds like a great book- thanks for the chance to win it!