Before I begin to tell you how this book completely pulled me in and left me dreaming of life at Versailles, let's take a minute to appreciate that cover. A little mysterious, beautifully colorful, and perfect for displaying on your bookshelf. The Sisters of Versailles isn't just pretty on the outside though-- the story inside is captivating, enticing, and full of strong female characters. The Sisters of Versailles also just happens to be a true story: of the five Nesle girls-- sisters who grew up in the early 18th century. Four would become mistress to a king, causing scandalous shockwaves to rip the kingdom of France, the citizens of which believed their king to be a pious and faithful man. This historical fiction account puts the reader alongside the family as the Nesle sisters grow from innocent young girls to powerful figures behind the throne, and as King Louis XV's reign blossoms, we see the sisters' campaigns against the citizens, members of the court, and each other.
The book has a frame narrative from the perspective of Hortense, now an old woman, but once the most beautiful of the five sisters. The story that Hortense tells, of her four sisters and how they each became the mistress to the king of France, begins when the five girls were all young -- innocent of the ways of the court and eager to be included in its luxury. I liked that we got to glimpse each of the sisters before she discovered what the world was truly like, this made them relatable as they navigated their new positions at court and found influence in the king's bed. One by one, the sisters find their way to Versailles, and in each case, they catch they eye of King Louis XV, one of the most beloved kings of France. This is where the book had the potential to turn into a terrible romance, but Christie took the relationships between the sisters, and between each sister and King Louis XV, and shaped them in a way that made them more meaningful to the reader.
Whether or not you like romance novels (I do not, by the way), you will fall for the romance in this book. As a reader, I found the triumphs and heartbreaks easy to connect with, and I came away with a unique sense of empathy for each of the sisters. The story comes to us through the perspective of each sister and through the sisters' correspondence, and Christie did an excellent job of giving each sister her own voice so that the authors of letters were immediately recognizable. The different relationships between the sisters -- from reverence to tension -- came to be an integral part of their motivations and actions at court, and I found those dynamics to be both interesting and not so different from sibling relationships in modern times. That the story is true only made it more compelling, and although I felt like there was a certain sense of finality at the end of this book (it could certainly stand alone), I am quite curious to find out what comes next in the trilogy. If you're a fan of Marie Antoinette, this period in historical fiction, or if you liked this book, I'd keep my eye out for this one when it hits bookstores tomorrow!
Bottom Line Rating: 5/5
Title: The Sisters of Versailles (Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy)
Author: Sally Christie
Publisher: Atria Books
Expected publication date: September 1, 2015
Source: Advanced Review Copy provided by Net Galley
Note: Top Shelf Text was provided with an advanced copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!