Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV by Karleen Koen

October 29, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): Louis XIV is one of the best-known monarchs ever to grace the French throne. But what was he like as a young man—the man before Versailles?

After the death of his prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, twenty-two-year-old Louis steps into governing France. He’s still a young man, but one who, as king, willfully takes everything he can get—including his brother’s wife. As the love affair between Louis and Princess Henriette burns, it sets the kingdom on the road toward unmistakable scandal and conflict with the Vatican. Every woman wants him. He must face what he is willing to sacrifice for love.

But there are other problems lurking outside the chateau of Fontainebleau: a boy in an iron mask has been seen in the woods, and the king’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, has proven to be more powerful than Louis ever thought—a man who could make a great ally or become a dangerous foe . . .

Liked:

  • Koen turned Louise into a compelling character. I’m not sure how much of this character’s personality was based on research and facts, but I liked her as the protagonist and am glad the book ended before her “downfall”.
  • It was sort of fun to see the boy in the iron mask make an appearance. The only version of the story I know is the Leonardo DiCaprio film where the prisoner was Philippe and was Louis’ twin brother, so it was kind of shocking to read of the boy in this book leaping to his death.
  • Some of the customs and manners of the French court were fun to read about, like the elaborate parties, flirtations, hidden/forbidden relationships, etc.
  • Philippe seemed like quite a character, dressing up as women, prostrating himself before the comte de Guiche, licking the guy’s boots, etc. I wonder what the people of France thought of the openly gay brother of the king?
  • Louis came off rather well in this, despite his affairs. This book takes place when he was just 22 and still popular, without an inkling of all the bad things that are to come.

Disliked:

  • Although this was based on history and is populated with “real” people, I didn’t recognize any of the names except for Louis, Richelieu, and Mazarin. This made some of the dealings with Nicolas and all the vile poems about Mazarin a bit boring for me because I didn’t understand the bigger picture.
  • It seemed as though Koen couldn’t decide whether she wanted to focus on the romance or the politics, so she split time between both and ended up doing neither storyline justice.
  • The plot, such as it is, moved along at a snail’s pace. It was easy to put this book aside for several days because nothing much was ever going on.
  • There was an awful lot of description about the clothing of the time. I get that Koen probably did a lot of research and wanted to include as much info as possible, but man, it was dull.

Rating:

I checked Before Verailles out from my library and was hoping for an intriguing story about the court of Louis XIV as a young man. But despite some bright spots, this book by Karleen Koen was mostly superficial and boring. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

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