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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review: Before Versailles by Karleen Koen

Before Versailles by Karleen Koen
ARC, Hardcover, 480 pages
Crown Publishing
June 28, 2011
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Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Received from publisher for TLC Book Tour
“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 . . . 
Meticulously researched and vividly brought to life by the gorgeous prose of Karleen Koen, Before Versailles dares to explore the forces that shaped an iconic king and determined the fate of an empire.”
Prior to reading this novel I had no idea that this book was about the king who would be known as The Sun King – and to that end, I didn’t know anything about that man either! I had no idea what story I was walking in to, but I loved Dark Angels by Karleen Koen so I did not hesitate to jump on this one! The author made it easy for me to connect into this world because there were frequent references to King Charles II of England (the brother of one of the main characters) who I have read a lot about and always enjoy. This world of Louis XIV is just as interesting as the court of Charles II! All of the intrigue and romance and craziness!

The book started off a little slow for me and I think part of this was due to the frequent pauses to explain things that I didn’t feel needed to be elaborated on. For example:
“And our little French dauphin” – the first son of the king was called the dauphin because three hundred years earlier a king of France had purchased huge territories that carried a hereditary title, taken from the dolphin on the coat of arms – “is going to teach you French” (pg. 32 of ARC).
In the above scenario, while the information was interesting, it added nothing to the story and really broke up the flow. This stylistic feature appeared to die out after the first quarter or so of the book and the narrative really picked up from there. A stylistic choice that I didn’t mind as much but still felt was a little unnecessary, was the occasional reference of things that would happen in the future, beyond the scope of the book:
“He couldn’t yet know the difference ten years would make, even five, couldn’t yet know the temptations that would be thrown at him...He could not know that one day this girl, turned to woman, would weep before him, and he wouldn’t feel a thing. But such was years away…” (pg 349 of ARC).
While some of the writing style bothered me, I felt that the content of the story was wonderful. There was a large cast of characters but they were all well developed. Even the periphery characters were developed enough that you had a solid feeling about who they were and substantiated their motives. I also loved that there was a great character list at the beginning of the book because I certainly needed it from time to time – especially given my unfamiliarity with the French court. Koen also brings the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask into play – and creates/supports a very believable scenario of who he may have been. Even this unknown character was well developed. I particularly enjoyed this plot line.

I very much enjoyed this book and can’t wait to get the chance to read her other works that are on my shelf. The author has stated that Dark Angels is a sequel to Before Versailles and knowing this, I was hoping to see Alice (main character in Dark Angels) pop into the novel before its end, as she was part of Madame’s household. But alas, this was not to be – that would have made the ending more perfect for me.

If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia 

Also by Karleen Koen

dark angels
Dark Angels (Tamworth Saga #1)
[My Review]

through a glass
Through a Glass Darkly (Tamworth Saga #2)

Now Face to Face (Tamworth Saga #3)

Find Karleen Koen: Website | Facebook | Twitter

You can visit the other stops on this tour to see what other's thought of this book as well!

Tuesday, July 5th: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Wednesday, July 6th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, July 7th: The Bookworm
Friday, July 8th: Historical-Fiction.com
Monday, July 11th: In the Hammock
Tuesday, July 12th: Living Outside the Stacks
Wednesday, July 13th: The Maiden’s Court (here!)
Thursday, July 14th: Royal Reviews
Monday, July 18th: Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, July 19th: Enchanted by Josephine
Wednesday, July 20th: Laura’s Reviews
Thursday, July 21st: Historical Tapestry AND Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Friday, July 22nd: Books Like Breathing
Monday, July 25th: Stiletto Storytime
Tuesday, July 26th: Hist-Fic Chick
Wednesday, July 27th: Life in Review
Thursday, July 28th: Reading, Reading & Life

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Thanks for the review. I just received a copy of the book in the mail yesterday :-) Not sure when I'll read it, and I'm a little weary of the style issues you mention as they would likely bother me, too, but it does sound like a good read anyway.

  2. Thrilled to see you enjoyed it as I've got it in my queue -- am trying to get in her earlier books if I have the time -- otherwise, this will be my first Koen!

  3. I'm glad you liked it! I hope to read this someday. It sounds like such an interesting read. Great review!

  4. Melissa - the style issues did bother me in the beginning, but it died off as you went through the book and I LOVED the characters.

    Audra - I can highly recommend Dark Angels!

    Carole Rae - I hope you get to read it, it was luscious!

  5. Great review! I'm glad to hear you loved the characters and I always appreciate a book with a big 'cast' that offers a list to help keep them straight. Thanks so much for being on the tour!


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