Mistress of the Sun
In her first novel in eight years (following the international success of her Josephine B. trilogy), Sandra Gulland has chosen an enigmatic figure—Louise de la Vallière, mistress to Louis XIV and mother of four children by him. Louise has been overshadowed in history by her more glamorous successors and the flamboyance that characterized the later years of Louis’s reign, but in her captivating jewel of a novel Gulland offers an absorbing account of a woman who reluctantly became a royal mistress and paid the price.
Gulland’s Louise has a fey spirit with the ability to enchant horses. In a desperate act of magic to save a feral stallion’s life she sets the course for her own destiny, one that will bring her equal measures of sorrow and joy. Uneasy with the cruel sycophantism of court, caught between her innate spiritual introspection and an impoverished lineage that compels her to noble servitude, Louise eventually catches the young king’s eye. Louis is handsome and vital, poised to assume his later embodiment as the Sun King. In Louise, he discovers incorruptible innocence, and their romance flourishes under a secrecy that continues for years, even as he grows in stature and she wrestles with her conscience and the degradation of her illusions. Scandal ensues when Louise is brought into the open as Louis’s lover; this fateful moment also sets the stage for her decline.
Fascinating details of life at the French court sparkle throughout the narrative, evidence of Gulland’s dedication to research. While Louise may not be as ambitious or clever as those who followed in her footsteps, she imbues an unforgettable authenticity that gives credence to the belief that she was Louis XIV’s only true love.