When Louis XV starts to tire of his queen, his advisors found it imperative to find him a mistress despite his initial Catholic guilt. The mistress that they found for him was Louise de Mailly-Nesle, a young woman at court whose own mother had had her own scandalous liasions and whose husband cared nothing at all for her personally nor for her residence in the King's bed. As the oldest of the Nesle sisters, it was through Louise and her connections at court that her younger sisters each, with the exception of Hortense, the family's beauty, came to hold sway in the King's bed as well. The sisters were very different in personality, ranging from constant and devoted to determined and manipulative, from to sweet and unthinking to scheming and savvy, and yet each one of them entranced the King in her own way, even if they have been reduced to a surprising but fascinating footnote in the history of the French monarchy.
Told in the first person by each of the five sisters, and in retrospect by Hortense, the one sister never to be the King's mistress, the narration also includes the seemingly innocuous letters that the sisters sent to one another over the years that a Nesle sister graced the bed of their monarch. Each sister is quite distinct and different, with very different reasons for being interested in the King, very different takes on morality, and different ways of approaching the complicated life at the court of Versailles. Christie has done a great job presenting the time period and the undercurrents at play in the court. The politics of the novel are sometimes a little bit light as its focus is more on the backstabbing and cunning deceit practiced by the Nesle sisters both towards each other and towards those who would oust them from their sovereign's favor. Those people around them who see these young women as a way to curry favor with Louis glide on and off the stage, doing their utmost to use the King's personal life to further their political ambitions and hopes. The novel is detailed, full of scandal and intrigue, brimming with betrayal and duplicity. It is a both a tale of the ultimate unimportance of the women who swirled around the King and an intriguing lesson in their momentary power. Perhaps this novel is enough to bring Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne back into the forefront of history, to make them more than just a curiousity. In any case, it is a fast and fascinating read and bodes well for the next novel in the trilogy, the tale of the next royal mistress, one whose name history has not forgotten, Madame de Pompadour.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours.