Synopses & Reviews
The author of the internationally acclaimed Josephine Bonaparte trilogy returns with another irresistible historical novel, this one based on the life of Louise de la Vallière, who, against all odds, became one of the most mysterious consorts of France's Louis XIV, the charismatic Sun King.
Set against the magnificent decadence of the seventeenth-century French court, Mistress of the Sun begins when an eccentric young Louise falls in love with a wild white stallion and uses ancient magic to tame him. This one desperate action of her youth shadows her throughout her life, changing it in ways she could never imagine.
Unmarriageable, and too poor to join a convent, Louise enters the court of the Sun King, where the king is captivated by her. As their love unfolds, Louise bears Louis four children, is made a duchess, and reigns unrivaled as his official mistress until dangerous intrigue threatens her position at court and in Louis's heart.
A riveting love story with a captivating mystery at its heart, Mistress of the Sun illuminates both the power of true and perfect love and the rash actions we take to capture and tame it.
"As she did for Napoleon's wife (The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.), Gulland skillfully blends fact and fiction to imagine the life of Louise de la Vallire (1644 1710), mistress to Louis XIV, France's Sun King. Louise loses her father early and spends her childhood in a convent run by her aunt, Sister Angelique. When Louise's mother, Franoise, marries a marquis, she takes Louise home, where, by chance, she meets King Louis. As she secures a position at court about 100 pages in, the plot finally begins to bubble with intrigue: the king has married for political reasons, but, as a young and pious man, he has not kept a mistress before Louise. Their secret love eventually comes to light, but not without exacting a price. A supernatural element threaded throughout adds color to Gulland's vivid period imaginings. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"...this is a fine telling, bolstered by the strength and sensitivity of Gulland's characterizations." -- Kirkus Reviews
"An excellent book, glittering and tender and soulful and wise." -- Merilyn Simonds, author of The Holding
"Suspenseful, evocative, atmospheric, and deliciously satisfying reading, with an immensely appealing heroine." -- Margaret George, author of Helen of Troy
"An irresistible story" -- Ottawa Citizen
"I fell in love with Petite from the moment she tamed her wild, white horse, and I galloped along with her through her undying devotion to one of France's most colorful kings." -- Anne Easter Smith, author of The King's Grace and A Rose for the Crown
About the Author
is the author of Mistress of the Sun; The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.; Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe
; and The Last Great Dance on Earth
. She lives in Killaloe, Ontario, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Table of Contents
Map: France at the Time of the Sun King
The Royal Families (abbreviated genealogy)
Part I: Bone Magic
Part II: Confession
Part III: The Enchanter
Part IV: Mislove
Part V: Beloved
Epilogue: Marie-Anne, June 6, 1710
Reading Group Guide
From Sandra Gulland, author of the beloved Josephine B trilogy, comes a new historical romance based on real people and events. Set in 17th century France, Mistress of the Sun is the story of Louise de la Vallière, affectionately known as "Petite." A legendary horsewoman and athlete, Petite first realized her love of horses as a small child when her father purchased a beautiful white horse named Diablo. But when Diablo proves too wild to handle, a young Petite secretly turns to "bone magic" to save her beloved horse -- a decision that haunts the rest of her life.
Although Diablo is now tame, Petite begins to wonder what price she must pay for relying on non-Christian methods. When her father dies suspiciously and her horse runs away, Petite's fear and guilt render her mute for several years. After being sent to a convent, Petite returns home to meet her mother's new husband, a man of high birth. With her speech recently restored, her mother uses their news connections to find Petite the coveted position of Princess Marguerite's maid and confidante.
It is while in the princess's employ that Petite meets the man who will forever change her life -- King Louis XIV, the Sun King. Although already married, Louis can't help but admire Petite's beauty, intelligence, and love of horses. No longer able to control their feelings, the two begin a decade-long affair that at first brings great joy and then misery into their lives.
But is Petite in control of her own destiny? Is she blinded by love, fooled by the duplicitous people at Court, or controlled by the ever-lurking devil?
Filled with imagery that beautifully depicts 17th century France, Mistress of the Sun is the story of an extraordinary young woman who captures the heart of a king. Despite a limp, humble background, and interests that many considered unfeminine, she quickly gains the admiration of her most respected countrymen. But Court is a dangerous place, and both allies and enemies are found in unexpected places.
1. Why did young Petite turn to bone magic to tame Diablo? Did she understand the ramifications of her actions? As an adult, did Petite regret this decision?
2. "The Devil gives nothing away for free" (page 13). In what ways did Petite pay for using the Devil's power? Is the use of "evil" for a "good cause" ever justified?
3. Many "ghosts" appear throughout the novel, usually in dreams, including the Lady in White, Diablo, and Petite's father, Laurent. Discuss their significance and their effect on Petite. What is it that haunts her?
4. "It felt strange for her mother to be touching her" (page 85). Discuss the relationship between Petite and her mother, Françoise, both as a child and an adult. How does it compare with her feelings for her aunt, Sister Angélique?
5. "Was it possible that nobility of the heart had little to do with high birth?" (page 123). What does Petite mean by "nobility of the heart"? Whom do you find noble? Petite? Her father, Laurent? Louis? Abbé Patin?
6. When Jean takes his sister on a tour of Paris for the first time, they climb to the top of Notre Dame, at which point she notes: "It seemed a monstrous and unnatural thing to see the world from such a height" (page 170). What does Petite mean by this statement? Is it foreshadowing?
7. What does Diablo mean to Petite?
8. Marie-Anne says her father confided in her that her mother was the only woman who ever loved him. Did he return Petite's love? How did his feelings change over time -- and why?
9. When Louis first meets Petite, he's reminded of Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt. And Louis is referred to as the Sun God Apollo. Are these comparisons accurate? Why does Sandra Gulland invoke Roman and Greek mythology?
10. Early on in their relationship Athénaïs alerts Petite that "A woman of Court...will do anything to get...[the King's] friendship" (page 267). Was there evidence of Athénaïs's true intentions all along? Did her behavior surprise you? Did she ever love either Louis or Petite?
11. Part IV is titled "Mislove." What does this term mean? Does it accurately reflect Petite's relationship with the King?
12. Petite is frequently warned that at Court, "nothing is as it seems" (page 298). Discuss this as an overall theme in the novel. Is there anyone who doesn't wear a mask? Consider the people Petite confides in: Nicole, Clorine, Athénaïs, Abbé Patin, Gautier. Who can Petite trust?
13. One of Petite's ancestors rode alongside Joan of Ark. Why does the author include this backstory? Do you see any similarities between the two women?
14. Petite confides in Gautier that she doesn't see her relationship with Louis as a sacrifice (page 321). Does she truly believe this? Ultimately, what, if anything, does Petite sacrifice for Louis's sake? Does she comply out of love or loyalty to the Crown?
15. God is Petite's "best friend" (page 323), and yet the Devil is always lurking. Which influences Petite most -- her love of God or her fear of the Devil?
16. Knowing the outrage it will cause, why does the King publicly acknowledge Petite's children as his own? How does the new title "Duchess" affect Petite, if at all?
17. "Diablo was stubborn, but she was stubborn too" (page 513). What other characteristics do Petite and Diablo share? In the end, are they both free?
18. What does Versailles ("Versaie" in the novel) mean to Petite and Louis at first, and what does it become? Do the changes reflect a change in their relationship?
19. How was "magic" used at that time? Why was its use prevalent? In what ways are such things used today -- and why?
20. "[It seemed] they were all of them ensnared," Petite reflects (page 122). What choices did women have in that era? What other choices might Petite have made?
Enhance Your Bookclub
Assign people to research different aspects of France during King Louis XIV's reign. One person can learn about politics, another can look into costumes, religion, witchcraft, etc. Then share what you discovered with the group.
To see a different perspective of France during this era, watch the 1998 film The Man in the Iron Mask. How does the film portray King Louis and others compared to Mistress of the Sun?
Want to find out more information about Sandra Gulland and her other novels? Visit www.sandragulland.com.