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Before Versailles by Karleen Koen - Excerpt

Before Versailles by Karleen Koen - Excerpt

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3.83

(45)
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Louis XIV is one of the best-known monarchs ever to grace the French throne. But what was he like as a young man—the man before Versailles?

After the death of his prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, twenty-two-year-old Louis steps into governing France. He’s still a young man, but one who, as king, willfully takes everything he can get—including his brother’s wife. As the love affair between Louis and Princess Henriette burns, it sets the kingdom on the road toward unmistakable scandal and conflict with the Vatican. Every woman wants him. He must face what he is willing to sacrifice for love.

But there are other problems lurking outside the chateau of Fontainebleau: a boy in an iron mask has been seen in the woods, and the king’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, has proven to be more powerful than Louis ever thought—a man who could make a great ally or become a dangerous foe . . .

Meticulously researched and vividly brought to life by the gorgeous prose of Karleen Koen, Before Versailles dares to explore the forces that shaped an iconic king and determined the fate of an empire.

To read more about Before Versailles or Karleen Koen please visit Crown Publishing Group at www.crownpublishing.com.
Louis XIV is one of the best-known monarchs ever to grace the French throne. But what was he like as a young man—the man before Versailles?

After the death of his prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, twenty-two-year-old Louis steps into governing France. He’s still a young man, but one who, as king, willfully takes everything he can get—including his brother’s wife. As the love affair between Louis and Princess Henriette burns, it sets the kingdom on the road toward unmistakable scandal and conflict with the Vatican. Every woman wants him. He must face what he is willing to sacrifice for love.

But there are other problems lurking outside the chateau of Fontainebleau: a boy in an iron mask has been seen in the woods, and the king’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, has proven to be more powerful than Louis ever thought—a man who could make a great ally or become a dangerous foe . . .

Meticulously researched and vividly brought to life by the gorgeous prose of Karleen Koen, Before Versailles dares to explore the forces that shaped an iconic king and determined the fate of an empire.

To read more about Before Versailles or Karleen Koen please visit Crown Publishing Group at www.crownpublishing.com.

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Publish date: Jun 28, 2011
Added to Scribd: Jun 22, 2011
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are theproduct of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance toactual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.Copyright © 2011 by Karleen KoenTitle page art:
 A View of the Royal Palace of Fontainebleau
(oil on panel) byHendrik Frans de Cort (1742–1810) (attr. to)Private Collection/ © Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts, New York/The BridgemanArt Library Nationality / copyright status: Flemish / out of copyrightAll rights reserved.Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of theCrown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.www.crownpublishing.comCROWN is a trademark and the Crown colophon is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataKoen, Karleen.Before Versailles : a novel of Louis XIV / Karleen Koen. — 1st ed.p. cm.1. Louis XIV, King of France, 1638–1715—Fiction. 2. France—Kings and rulers—Fiction. 3. France—History—Louis XIV, 1643–1715—Fiction. I. Title.PS3561.O334B44 2011813'.54—dc22 2010035562ISBN 978-0-307-71657-6eISBN 978-0-307-71659-0Printed in the United States of America
 Book design by Lauren Dong Jacket design by Jennifer O'Connor
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1First Edition

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mjmbecky reviewed this
Rated 4/5
I really loved reading Koen's tale of King Louis XIV and his court. Filled with intrigue and so many characters that I could hardly keep them straight, there are a number of character-driven stories going on at once. I've always wondered if the promiscuity of these monarchs was completely just due to their own personalities and appetites, or also driven by marriages that were made without their involvement at such a young age. When two young people are forced to marry, as a way of uniting two countries, who is to say that they know anything about love, romance, or the heart? It does seem like they are seemingly coached into romantic intrigue. It's just something I found interesting to consider, especially as we watch young Louis really only driven by relationships with women he met in the court around him. In other words, like we see today, he had a group of people he "hung out with" and then clicked with some of the women, who later became his courtesans. It's all very, very interesting. There were many different characters to follow in this story, and I first had to establish who was supposedly "good" and who was "bad." That list was a bit static, but once I kind of knew the cast of characters, the story fell into place a bit more. Although the novel could have delved into even more about political and social issues facing France during his reign, this was a novel about relationships, conspiracy, and intrigue, all surrounding a need for power, attention, and control. Not really told from one point of view, we get a nice look at both men and women in this story, to get a truly interesting tale of King Louis XIV. I really enjoyed it.
allisonmacias reviewed this
Rated 5/5
Louis, the fourteenth of that name, is a young king. Though he is destined to be a great king, he faces many challenges. France's coffers are empty, while the finance minister has enough money to build grand houses and buy warships. There have been mysterious sightings of a boy in a iron mask in the woods surrounding Fountainbleu. Louis, who is the most powerful and attractive man at court, is in love with his brother's wife, Madame Henriette. Louis worries about being usurped by the growing power of Viscount Nicholas, the Finance Minister. He also is worried about the identity of the boy behind the mask, and is trying to placate his brother and mother. To create a diversion, Henriette suggests that Louis start flirting with women at court. Louise de la Baume de Blanc, Henriette's maid in waiting, is a good diversion. New at Court, Louise is a rare gem who doesn't covet gems or power.The struggle for power in France creates a rich story. The beginning of the book is a bit slow, but pay attention. You will need all the background information that you can get. The French Court is teeming with those who have ulterior motives, and it can be a challenge to keep up with everyone's secret agendas. The book quickly picks up and becomes VERY interesting. I loved all the secret love affairs and spying. Louise is a wonderful character in the book, and her years as maîtresse-en-titre would make a wonderful sequel. Louis is wonderfully sympathetic and romantic. I can see how all the women at court were in love with him. I would love to see more novels about the Sun King and the women in his life.
jhempel_3 reviewed this
Rated 5/5
This was the most entertaining book of the year for me. A 2011 favorite. Great writer! Great characters. LOVED THIS BOOK
jmchshannon reviewed this
Before one can truly understand the sentiments that brought about the Reign of Terror and the fall of the monarchy in France during the late 1700s, one must go back to the beginning and the behaviors and experiences that set France on its path. In Before Versailles, Karleen Koen takes the reader back to Louis XIV, back when the king of France, and as a result the country, was ruled by a variety of ministers, each with his own agenda. The pressure to dazzle everyone, from family to the lowliest of subjects, was great, and the need to show one’s power in the form of profligate spending was all but required. Against this backdrop comes the story of one of France’s most beloved kings, in power 200 years before the Reign of Terror would destroy his lineage. Before Versailles opens at the onset of Louis XIV’s reign as King of France. Before he ever earned his moniker, The Sun King, he was just a young man taking tentative steps towards establishing what would later become the first absolute monarchy. As one would imagine, Louis is relatively naïve and spoiled. Yet, glimpses of his future self become evident as he struggles to wrest mastery of his kingdom away from previous ministers, especially Nicolas Fouquet. Louis earns the reader’s respect through his growth towards a self-aware king, one who is more than capable of running his country by himself.In direct opposite to Louis’ strength of character is the multitude of women that surround him. Giddy, empty-minded, and even more naïve than Louis, the women are simply vacuous. While they are capable of manipulating men, they achieve their goals through the use of their feminine wiles, something most modern-day women can only read with disgust. While there are plenty of examples of women who use their brains to gain power and privilege for their offspring, these women are all but non-existent in Before Versailles. Their simpering, fawning, and tantrums are so excessive that it becomes difficult to stomach at times. While the reader is under no illusions that Mr. Koen is completely exaggerating the behavior of the female courtiers and royal women, their actions do take on a largely fictional quality because of their extreme natures. One looking to find a true, strong female role model in Louis’ court is going to be sorely disappointed. The pacing of the novel is very similar, one imagines, to life within Fontainebleau. Constantly changing, the narrative changes characters as quickly and as often as Princess Henriette changes dresses. For those readers not paying close attention, it can become an exercise in confusion to discern who is involved in the current scene while remembering everything said in previous scenes. Based on Mr. Koen’s descriptions, one imagines that this is exactly what all courtiers faced – having to stay constantly vigilant and aware in an effort to stay one step ahead of other courtiers and in the king’s good graces. It can be as exhilarating an experience as it is tiresome. Having to pay such close attention for every single page in the novel can be daunting, but the experience of reading Before Versailles is much more fulfilling as a result.Mr. Gardner’s performance was not quite what I was expecting. His is a forceful voice, leaving little room for nuance and performance. The differences in his characterization was slight, if non-existent, making it very difficult to discern who was speaking when. His French, while adding an air of authenticity, made it even more difficult to distinguish between the very large cast of characters because the names sound so similar and are spoken so rapidly. Listeners expecting variations or even emotion from Mr. Gardner will be disappointed, as there really is none. This makes the novel read a bit like a biography rather than a work of fiction. Mr. Gardner’s monotony is especially effective at minimizing the overly exaggerated emotional responses of the maids of honor and even of Princess Henriette that are so prevalent, but this muted performance does detract from the more honest sentiments expressed by Louis and other characters. Regardless of Mr. Gardner’s performance, I am not certain that Before Versailles is the right novel for audio. There are too many scene breaks and jumps in time that are unheralded by anything other than a pause to allow for smooth transitions audibly. Mr. Gardner did the best he could with the material at hand. Unfortunately, I do believe this is one novel better read in print than read aloud.Before Versailles is interesting in the intimate look it gives at court life before there was such a thing as an absolute monarch. The plotting, the constant fawning, the politicizing of everything from accessories to the granting of favors is as shocking as it is titillating. Mr. Koen does a fantastic job capturing the exhausting excesses while utilizing some of the more well-known rumors and unsolved mysteries to advance the story. A reader finishes Before Versailles with a greater understanding of just what it meant to be among royalty, a greater appreciation for not being part of the royal family, and a growing appetite to learn more about Louis XIV.Acknowledgements: Thank you to Blackstone Audio and Jen from Devourer of Books for this Audiobook Week giveaway!
wagner5sarah35 reviewed this
Rated 3/5
A interesting look at the early years of Louis XIV, before he built up Versailles and became the image of an absolute monarch. Karleen Koen's novel deals with a few months in 1661, leading up to the arrest of a royal adviser, in which Louis begins to grow into his role as king both in public and personal matters. He begins an affair with the first in a string of royal mistresses and uncovers a family secret that could threaten his throne while also subtly increasing his political control over France. An interesting read, definitely for anyone interested in this time period.
kasthu_1 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Set in the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, this novel follows the early period of his relationship with Louise del la Baume le Blanc, who comes to court as a teenager. Louis develops a close relationship with his brother’s wife, Henriette (younger sister of Charles II of England!); and to create a decoy and keep scandal from happening, Louise agrees to an affair with the King.I expected this novel to be primarily about Louise, so I was disappointed in that regard. It’s told from many different points of view: Louis, Philippe, even the story of the Man in the Iron Mask comes into play, which really added nothing to the main story. The author’s depiction of Louis’s character is very story, but I didn’t quite get what we’re supposed to see in Louise. As a character, she didn’t come across as strongly as some of the lesser characters. The author describes the danger and intrigue of Louis’s court well, but the plot of the novel doesn’t unfold quite as organically as I’d hoped. I also expected this novel to be about Louise and her relationship with Louis, but there’s no real attraction between the two until more than halfway through the novel. It was very anticlimactic. It’s a shame; I enjoyed the author’s previous novel much more than this one.
cariola_6 reviewed this
Rated 3/5
I loved Karleen Koen's novels of the Restoration court of Charles II, Through a Glass Darkly and Dark Angels. It has been five years since she published a novel, so I was really looking forward to her latest, Before Versailles, Sadly, it was quite a disappointment.Koen moves from England to the court of Louis XIV, the newly-crowned and very young French king. Various courtiers, including his mother and brother, are battling for positions of power and influence, and every woman at court is a little in love with the handsome king. He, however, only has eyes for his bisexual-with-a-strong-preference-for-men brother's new bride, and, later, for one of her ladies.That lady, Louise de La Baume Le Blanc, initially seems to be the novel's focal character. She's a simple but spirited girl from the country with a talent for style-setting and a love of horseback riding. During one of her excursions into the woods near Fontainebleu, Louise encounters a small teenage boy in an iron mask who can only babble and rage as he is pulled away by his keepers. Louise is warned by the head of the king's guard, d'Artagnan, never to mention the incident or to ride this way again. But her curiosity gets the better of her.So while Louis is comforting his pregnant wife, he's also chasing after his brother's wife. Fortunately, things never go too far, partly because of his mother's intervention and partly because he falls for Louise after he pretends to be in love with her to hide his growing affair with his sister-in-law . . . Well, I think you can see already what one of the problems is. There's just too dang much going on! The book is all over the place. We've got Louise's bisexual cousin, who is also in love with her. Then there's the rumor that Louis's real father is Cardinal Mazarin, and the fact that, if true, there are men plotting to take his throne. Court affairs (with lots of sex) seem to pop up in every dark corner. Will Louis's pregnant wife find out about his lovers? Will he arrest the viscount? Will Louise be able to cure his sick dog? It's all just TOO MUCH!On top of that, Koen's research sticks out as research, and she repeats herself again and again as if she is quite impressed with herself for finding and comprehending historical tidbits, or she knows how long-winded she is and feels that the reader is not bright enough to remember everything. Characters are another problem. You've heard that "clothes make the man?" Well, descriptions of their clothing accounts for 75% of their characters here. While Louis seems a decent sort and a promising king, many of the lesser characters were dull clichés, and Louise came off as, well, frankly, quite a bore, making it hard to believe that Louis would have fallen for her.I can't recommend this novel, and I can only hope that for her next novel Koen returns to Restoration England, where she is obviously much more comfortable. If not, I'm afraid she'll be removed from my list of favorite authors.One further caveat: Do not--I repeat, DO NOT--try to listen to the audiobook. I got about an hour into it and went to the hard copy. The reader has the kind of voice you'd expect to find reading a Mickey Spillane crime novel, not one set in the elegant court of Louis XIV. How did they made such a poor choice?
janeycat_1 reviewed this
Rated 5/5
I have been a fan of Karleen Koen for many years so I was completely thrilled to find her latest novel. And I have to say, even I was taken aback by just how flat-out good this book is. I have told other historical fiction addicts that NO ONE writes about seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe the way Koen can. With atmosphere, triumph, tragedy, and romance in spades. I hold to my opinion on that. But this work ups the storytelling ante. Unlike a lot of lighter historical fare, Koen's works are always grounded in events--her characters react to and are effected by them all in very believable ways. Her characters live their times just the way we do. But in this work, the political and the personal are actually warring in the person at the center of the novel: Louis XIV. It is this tension that drives the drama, which is deeply touching and disturbing. I admit, I picked up Before Versailles half-expecting another breathless romp between royal master and lady mistress, although maybe with a triple-digit IQ. I should've known better. There are elements of love and magic here, but that is just one element of the plot. The action is most concerned with the making of a king. We see Louis XIV become the man who would become the greatest power of his age by betraying, weakening, and breaking the people closest to him. It is fascinating and wrenching to watch. You are not sure if you admire Louis, hate him, feel sorry for him--or some heightened mix of all three. So...read it and you won't be sorry.
justabookreader reviewed this
Rated 4/5
I’ve always had a soft spot for the antics of the French court even more so than the English courts and I’m the type of person who can’t turn down a story about the Tudors. In books revolving around the monarchy, whether French or English, one can’t have a story without a mistress and let’s all agree that’s what makes the story. Isn’t that why these books are so much fun? Oh, it is and Koen doesn’t disappoint.Cardinal Mazarin, the French prime minister, is dead and Louis XIV, only twenty-two years-old, is now king of France and a king with power. That power is not yet firmly grasped but he’s intent on learning to yield it fully. Unaware of many of the financial arrangements his mother and the Cardinal made while ruling in his stead, he’s in for a surprise when he finally takes it upon himself to investigate. Unsure of his financial minister’s monetary affairs and how mingled they are with the crown’s accounts, he has suspicions and employs a faithful counselor to help him sort through the courtly promises and financial advice being offered.To add another distraction, Louis has fallen in love with his brother Philippe’s wife, Princess Henriette, a woman captivating not only the king but the entire French court. A man not used to being denied, Louis attempts to make Henriette his mistress against the wishes of not only his brother but also his mother who believes it will be his downfall. Married to a woman he greatly admires for her breeding and royal pedigree, unfortunately, he doesn’t truly love her and is looking for a distraction she can’t provide. He knows it’s the idea of passion and surprise that comes from his illicit affair with Henriette but Louis can’t help himself. To calm the court, Henriette suggests he flirt with one of her maids; a shy but very pretty young woman named Louise. Then something happens he didn’t expect --- Louis finds he might have fallen in love.Before Versailles started slowly for but it was almost as if it was waiting for Louis to find his footing as king and once he found his confidence, so did the story. While the affair between Louis and Henriette is more intense, the affair with Louise is completely the opposite but in a way more satisfying. All the court intrigue requirements needed for a story like this are met and then some. Oddly, the financial scandal is also quite good, adding a harder edge to what is mostly a love story. It’s a nice contrast for Louis as he grows into his role as a king and what he’s dealing with on the political level makes you see why he craves love in the quieter parts of his life. I was happy to see the political elements here. In stories about kings and mistresses it sometimes gets pushed to the side and becomes background noise. Here that doesn’t happen and it’s refreshing. There is a small side story involving Louise that feels slightly out of place but it’s the only stumble in an otherwise entertaining book.I read a lot of historical fiction and I love when authors find a way to make well-known figures interesting and intense characters that allow you to imagine another life for that person. Koen does that with Louis XIV. I finished wanting to know more about the king that would build the palace of Versailles. That can be difficult to accomplish sometimes.
dianaleez reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Interesting insights into the early court of Louis XIV, but more romance than historical novel. The historical elements that are included are far more interesting than the romantic relationships.

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