Mistress of the Sun follows the story of Louise de Valliere, nicknamed Petite. Petite’s story starts from her happy childhood. She is little girl who grows up loving and having a way with animals, horses especially, and her family. Her father is a generous and kindhearted country physician whom Petite convinces to purchase a wild and rare white horse, whom they simply call The White. Six-year-old Petite first becomes acquainted and involved in spells and enchantments as she uses “bone magic” to try to save The White by making him more manageable, though indirectly leading to the death of her father, who is found dead outside of The White’s empty stall.
Petite is devastated by the loss of her father and her horse and enters a convent for a time until her mother re-marries a Marquis who facilitates Petite’s favorable service to one of the Princesses of the realm,leading to an esteemed position as the wife of the Sun King’s brother Philip. Though Louis, the Sun King, initially pays court to Petite as a ruse to distract his mother and Queen from his real target, they develop a relationship that lasts for several years and produces four children, and survives lots of scandal and intrigue along the way.
Misttress of the Sun is a wonderful novel with rich language and sumptuous details of the court, clothes, food and beliefs of the people during the era of the Sun King. Petite’s tale is that of a simple girl who fell in love with a man called named Louis who just happened to the King of France, a part of the man she struggles to cone to terms with. In her unprecedented in the position of his mistress, Louise de Valliere becomes one of the highest ranking women in the land.
Sandra Gulland weaves a remarkable tapestry of the sights and sounds of seventeenth-century France. I enjoyed the wealth of details about the beliefs, customs and superstitions of the time. There were heavy references to religion and allusions to magic and witchcraft mixed in with the real life details and they were deftly woven into the fabric of the novel that I never felt as if I were taking a history lesson, but instead was amazed at the portrait of their lives. I was fascinated by their methods of birth control, and the sexual practices that supposedly prevented pregnancy. It is no wonder that Petite had four children by Louis given the advice that she was getting! Religion and the attendant superstitions of the time have certainly come a long way.
Petite is a refreshing character if only for the reason that she seems to be one of the few mistresses or wives of a king that I have come across who has not been power hungry and scheming. I enjoyed seeing her struggle with her love for the man, even as she doesn’t necessarily like the king. Definitely an interesting though, at least to my way of thinking, unenviable position to be in. Petite’s struggle with her guilt over her relationship with the king, and her religious beliefs juxtaposed with the actions that she has taken to achieve certain aims held my attention along with the wonderful secondary characters and intrigues at court. Readers who enjoy rich, detailed and believable historical fiction will definitely delight in this novel of seventh-century France.