Versailles by Elizabeth Massie

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Versailles by Elizabeth Massie

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: At times a sexy, witty comedy of manners, and at others a dark and tragic tale with death and danger abounding, Versailles is a book of remarkable contrasts, and illuminates the birth of a palace in an entertaining and fast moving romp of a novel
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Atlantic Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781782399988

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1667 – The civil wars are over. King Louis XIV crushed the nobility's rebellion against his father, leaving the throne his. But the aristocracy hounds his every step – and realises that if they will not be loyal, they will at least obey. So the King plants a trap to ensnare them – building Versailles, a prison of opulence where his power is absolute. Trapped by the palace, they have no choice but to play the King's game and to obey his rule. And so the court becomes a place of tactical liaisons and salacious passions. The Queen fights to keep the King's attention from his mistress, and the King's brother struggles to keep his relationship alive. Versailes is not the paradise it appears to be; instead, it is a labyrinth of treason and hushed secrets, of political schemes and deadly conspiracies. It is a place of passion and death, love and vengeance. The King will take what is rightfully his.

I should start by mentioning that this is an adaptation of a TV series – a lavish drama that I've yet to watch, but, if this book is anything to go by, one I'll definitely be tuning into at some point. I was reminded of The Tudors – a series that had little regard for historical accuracy, but focused on character and utilising the genuinely startling true facts in order to craft compelling plots – just not necessarily in the right order… It's had a fair share of people who enjoyed it, and a fair share who grumbled at the inaccuracies, but, as far as I'm concerned, anything that sparks an interest in history should be encouraged. And so it is with Versailles – a steamy, dramatic romp of a drama that isn't always completely accurate, but forgoes dry academia for exciting and captivating plot, and explores the lives of genuinely intriguing real life characters. Whilst this is a period novel, the machinations of those in the court could be taking place in any modern day government, and there is a modernity to the prose that I think makes the book accessible for anyone – provided they're okay with moments of violence, torture, and rather a lot of sex…

Author Elizabeth Massie has had quite the challenge – having to adapt the scripts of an entire series into one book – but does so with real skill, the short chapters serving to make the book a real page turner, but also allowing brief glimpses of the characters that manage to artfully paint very full portraits with surprisingly few brushstrokes. As for the characters? They are wonderfully three dimensional – living, breathing, beating adults who leap off the page and through the centuries to the reader. A particular favourite of mine was Phillipe – the King's brother, a man whose sexuality was predominantly homosexual, but whose strong will of character and prowess as a military commander warned anyone from gossiping and allowed him to lead a relatively open life (various wives aside…) It all adds up to a thrilling read, and I'm hoping future series of the TV show will produce further books. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading I would recommend the Queen of historical fiction Philippa Gregory - The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. She has a ginormous back catalogue, and they're all fascinating and well written novels that both tell a wonderful tale, and encourage an interest in history. You might also enjoy The Sun King Conspiracy by Yves Jego, Denis Lepee, and Sue Dyson (translator).

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Elizabeth Massie (author) said:

Thank you so much for the excellent review of my novelization of Versailles! The writing was both challenging and very enjoyable. I agree with you regarding historical fiction - while there may be inaccuracies or readjustments in a series or novel, getting people interested in history is a good goal. And one of the first steps toward drawing people into history is ridding them of the lingering belief that people of the past weren’t like us, when in fact very little has changed in hundreds of years regarding human nature; our fears, hopes, strengths, weaknesses, and passions are practically identical.

Thanks again,

- Elizabeth Massie