Thursday, 7 April 2016

Review: The Sun King Conspiracy by Yves Jégo and Denis Lépée and Sue Dyson (translator)



2016 • 448 pages • Gallic Books

Who can I trust in this nest of vipers?

The year is 1661 and Cardinal Mazarin, the Chief Minister to King Louis XIV of France, lies dying. As the health of the man who once governed France deteriorates, the ambitions of those beneath him strive for power in order to succeed him. Secret papers have been stolen from the Cardinal, papers that could change the course of France forever, and have fallen in to the hands of Gabriel de Pontibrand, a young actor who has become unwillingly involved in this strange conspiracy. Surrounded by scheming politicians and a secret brotherhood, the contents of these coded papers will change Gabriel’s life and have the power to change the future of France.

The premise of The Sun King Conspiracy sounds incredibly exciting; full of mystery and intrigue and all set during a politically important period which led to Louis XIV’s ultimate rise to power. The story itself began well and at first I enjoyed it, but instead of being on the edge of my seat thirsting for more, it left me feeling confused and a bit disappointed.

As I said, the set-up sounded amazing and I have no doubt that both Yves Jégo and Denis Lépée did an impeccable job with their research – the decadence of the French court and descriptions of seventeenth century Paris are wonderful.  In terms of plot however, it just felt like too much was going on which left me feeling bewildered and unable to completely immerse myself in the story. Gabriel is at the centre of the novel and you follow him as his accidental possession of these mysterious papers set him on a dangerous path, but the narrative deals with the involvement of so many other characters and their ambitions and it just made the story feel complicated. It’s got plenty of action but this is a novel where you have to concentrate to know what’s happening, so don’t anticipate an easy read because I found it quick to get muddled if I lost focus.  

I’m a lover of seventeenth century history, and particularly love to read novels concerning the reign of The Sun King himself. Pretty much any book I find that’s written during this period I will add it to my To-Read list. In that respect, the book was interesting to read in order to see the authors’ fictional take on such historical figures as Louise de la Vallière and Nicolas Fouquet. Sadly, it all felt very flat and it was so frustrating because it began so well. I had such hopes that this would knock my socks off but it didn’t. Also the chapters are incredibly short, and that was reassuring at times but it meant that as one part of the story was taking off, it would come to an abrupt pause and then immediately plunge in to a different section of the plot! It’s fast moving, but also quite rushed.

If you enjoy historical fiction mixed with elements of mystery then you may enjoy this, and despite my issues with the book I would say to any readers interested in historical fiction set during the reign of Louis XIV to give this a go because while I didn’t love it, I’m glad I read it. But again, this is a mild recommendation to a limited audience – I’ll read anything set in this period to see how different authors handle the historical details, and if you’re like me then by all means see what you think. It might surprise you.  

Overall rating: 2 stars

My proof copy of The Sun King Conspiracy was sent to me by The Bookbag and my review was originally published on their website.

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