Author: Sophie Perinot
Genre: Fiction (Historical / Medieval / 13th century / France / England / Royalty / Sisters)
Publisher/Publication Date: NAL Trade (3/6/2012)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did -- I zipped through this one!
One-sentence summary: Sisters Eleanor and Marguerite weather royal marriages, births, intrigue, and wars, separated by kingdoms but undivided in their affection for each other.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I think I do. Full heads, hurrah, and they're rather interesting looking. They resemble teens, or women in their 20s, which fits with the two heroines.
I'm reminded of...: Lynn Cullen, Sandra Worth
First line: The sun is on my face and I can smell the spring squill as its blue blossoms, too numerous for the counting,b rush against my gown as I walk.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for sure -- this nearly 500 pages novel reads fast, has wonderful heroines, and illuminates a fascinating era.
Why did I get this book?: Love French royal historicals -- and Eleanors.
Review: Despite my boredom with the Tudors, I still have a thing for royals, and I just couldn't pass up a novel about Eleanor of Provence (not to be confused with Eleanor of Aquitaine). At nearly 500 pages, I started salivating when I began the novel: if I liked Perinot's articulation of Eleanor of Provence and her sister Marguerite, I wanted to be able to hang with them -- and happily, Perinot doesn't disappoint.
Beginning in 1234, the novel follows Marguerite and Eleanor as they enter in to royal marriages -- Marguerite to Louis IX of France and Eleanor to Henry III of England -- and the novel alternates chapters between the two sisters. Unusually, Perinot uses present tense, which normally aggravates me, but for whatever reason, worked in this novel. I felt present in the activity and never confused about the dual story lines, despite the piles of intrigue, drama, marital sexiness and familial angst. Perinot's writing style is casual and modern, but not anachronistic, and I raced through the book. Her characters felt real, especially those problematic kings, and I appreciated the way she tried to keep everyone human (save for, perhaps, Marguerite's vile mother-in-law).
In her Author's Note, Perinot explains what changes she made to the historical timeline but interestingly enough, I don't think she aged up the heroines. Eleanor is married at 13 -- to a 28 year old -- and Marguerite marries at 14, and both women are sexual with their husbands rather immediately. It was discomforting for me but handled well by Perinot, and the sex in the book felt sexy and plotty in equal part. (I wouldn't describe this as a YA novel despite the teenaged heroines.)
What I also liked about this book was the focus on the more mundane aspects of these two royal sisters. While they were competitive, in a way, they were also outsiders at their respective courts, viewed suspiciously, and I enjoyed Perinot's articulation of their relationship.
A winning debut -- I can't wait for Perinot's next offering!
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Sister Queens to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers. Ends 3/23. Check out my interview with Sophie Perinot for another chance to enter!