Patient, perfect, and used to being first, Marguerite becomes Queen of France. But Louis IX is a religious zealot who denies himself the love and companionship his wife craves. Can she borrow enough of her sister's boldness to grasp her chance for happiness in a forbidden love?
Passionate, strong-willed, and stubborn, Eleanor becomes Queen of England. Henry III is a good man, but not a good king. Can Eleanor stop competing with her sister and value what she has, or will she let it slip away?
The Sister Queens is historical fiction at its most compelling, and is an unforgettable first novel.
Sophie Perinot writes historical fiction. Her debut novel, The Sister Queens, (NAL/Penguin) was set in 13th century France and England. The Sister Queens weaves the captivating story of medieval sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence, who both became queens – their lifelong friendship, their rivalry, and their reigns.
Perinot's novel, Medicis Daughter , (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin) is set three-hundred years later--at intrigue-riven 16th century French Valois court. Medicis Daughter spins the tale of beautiful princess Marguerite who walks the knife edge between the demands of her serpentine mother, Catherine de Medicis, and those of her own conscience.
Her Ribbons of Scarlet (William Morrow) is a collaborative work with authors Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, Heather Webb and Eliza Knight. Ribbons offers a gutsy and sometimes gritty telling of the French Revolution from an entirely female perspective.
Ms. Perinot has both a BA in History and a law degree. She left the law to pursue artistic interests, including writing. An avid reader, especially of classic literature, and life-long student of history, it seemed only natural that Sophie should write historical fiction. As someone who studied French abroad and a devotee of Alexandre Dumas, French history was a logical starting point. An active member of the Historical Novel Society, she has attended all of the group’s North American Conferences and served as a panelist multiple times.
As a disclaimer, I will admit that Sophie Perinot is a friend of mine, and I very much hope that her debut novel “The Sister Queens” hits the New York Times list and is then made into a blockbuster film starring Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence in fabulous silk dresses. But I only review books I genuinely like, and I would have loved "The Sister Queens" whether I knew the author or not. End of disclaimer.
Sister drama that isn't about Anne and Mary Boleyn – bliss! Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence are sort of like the high-medieval version of the Middleton sisters – poised and gorgeous heiresses comfortable in the spotlight of the world stage. Women want to be them; men (and more importantly, kings) want to marry them. Demure Marguerite/Kate Middleton will wed Louis IX and become queen of France, and fiery Eleanor/Pippa Middleton will marry Henry III and become Queen of England. Through the next twenty years their letters cross the channel, telling of husbands and children and crusades and bitchy mothers-in-law, and their closeness never fades. Sister drama is at the heart of this novel, but true sister drama, not the soap opera rivalry of less subtle novels. Eleanor may feel competitive with Marguerite, and Marguerite may lecture Eleanor, but their closeness transcends both petty cat-fighting and national politics.
The men here are not just paper-doll accessories to the women, but complex and fully-rounded characters in their own right. Henry of England is a flawed and impulsive ruler but a doting husband and a loving father; Louis of France is an able administrator but also a religious fanatic who sees no evil in burning the lips off a man who takes the name of the Lord in vain. The sisters face opposing problems in their marriages; Eleanor struggling to guide her husband away from political mistakes but reveling in their mutual love; Marguerite admiring Louis's political acumen but withering slowly under his coldness.
The writing is polished and easy, the voices natural and distinct. The expert use of present tense brings immediacy to what might be a very foreign setting. I rooted especially for Marguerite, and I longed to drop an anvil on King Louis's smug head. “The Sister Queens” is an accomplished debut for Sophie Perinot, and I will be pleased to read anything else she publishes without the inward fear of “Oh no, what if I hate my friend's book?”
This is the type of book I am constantly looking for in the historical fiction genre, and rarely seem to stumble across; it's very engaging from the outset, it's lively to read with actualized characters in stead of cardboard historical cutouts, and it's mostly, somewhat accurate. Sophie Perinot may indeed be a first-time author, but you certainly wouldn't know that from reading her debut novel. The Sister Queens tells the captivating and contrasting stories of two proud sisters from Savoy and I was never bored reading about these two fascinating and strong women. This novel is an impressive and lengthy addition to the Tudor-heavy historical fiction genre, and miraculously, one that despite its nearly 530 page length, never bores. I personally read a lot of Tudor-era historical fiction, but this was just the right palate cleanser for all the Howards, Boleyns and Stuarts I usually see re-imagined. Thus, I may not have known as much about or been as familiar with the facts and history of the times the novel takes place during (1234-1255) going into this, but the characters were so vivid and alive that I felt compelled to research the actual personages upon finishing. Ms. Perinot's creation is indelibly her own, but I appreciate the factually-influenced way she presented both her story and her characters.
Marguerite and Eleanor are both sisters and, eventually, Queens, but it is the first bond more than anything that defines them the most. They are each others touchstone, especially once they are separated with Marguerite in France and Eleanor in England. Especially since each country viewed their foreign "Savoyard" Queens as less than appealing, their dependent relationship with the other is realistic and sympathetic. The Sister Queens interjects epistolary (fabricated) letters between the two before every chapter and each missive between the two reinforces just how close these women remained, though separated by years, wars, religion, distance. The POV shifts back and forth between the two, usually at the chapter breaks. While this could've been easily confusing, the "voices" of each respective Queen is very distinctive and identifiable. I didn't even really notice the use of present-tense for the first few chapters: I just felt that everything in the novel very immediate, in a good way. I could tell when I was reading Eleanor and when I was reading Marguerite before names/places popped up in their thoughts. The relationship between Marguerite and Eleanor, proud daughters of Savoy is the most compelling and emotional of the entire novel: unlike the relationships with their respective husbands, the relationship between the pair is as close to equals as the two can find in their lives. Their is an obvious amount of love between the two, but Perinot early on creatively slides in subtle hints of discord and strife that mar every sisterhood and that will eventually come to affect their bond.
Eleanor is the younger, covetous and more strident of the two, and my personal favorite of the novel. She is a woman very concerned with "fairness" and what's right, at least what's right according to her - character traits that will cause her unforeseen problems with both her husband and sister later in life. While I liked the personal evolution that both women undertake during the events of the book, I felt that Eleanor was more personally identifiable for me as a reader. Marguerite, especially as her marriage and happiness in that marriage, waned was more trouble for me to invest within. Perinot's deft foreshadowing on the troublesome piety of Louis IX sets the scene for Marguerite's woes early, but I only cared when she finally took some happiness for herself, rather than sit and pine and wait for her husband to extend some to her. Eleanor grows from an imperious, headstrong girl mostly concerned with what she possesses and controls into a gracious, intelligent queen that is both capable of reigning solely (unheard of at that time in history) and tampering her less-able King and husband's governing impulses. While neither husband-King of either sister could be rightly termed a "good" king (Henry is very ignorant of the feelings of the populace/Barons that control his country, Louis IX abandons his France for the Holy Land for SEVEN YEARS), both women show their ability to step up and make hard decisions when the menfolk can't seem to get the job done right.
While Eleanor was my self-professed favorite character, I do love a good villain. Blanche of Castile comprises that role for the bulk of the novel for Marguerite, and the "Dragon of Castile" made a malicious and well-mannered antagonist. The tête-à-têtes between Blanche and her daughter-in-law show a different side to the usually meek and accepting Marguerite; the first hints of future independence are shown clearly in her lack of deference to the dowager Queen. While later duties of antagonism were ably handled by her bumbling and ascetic son, Blanche commands attention even when not on the page. Her tussles with her daughter in love over her son/Marguerite's husband illustrate perfectly how alone and powerless Marguerite was in France. Not for her was her sister Eleanor's life of mutual love and respect, which itself was far from typical of the Royal couples of the day. Because of Blanche, Marguerite is a nonentity at the court of which she is Queen. This disparate use of power and control contrasts tidily with the life of Eleanor who schemes and manipulates her own court outright. The difference between the sisters is that Eleanor makes things happen, whereas Marguerite is content to sit and wait for things to fall her way
One of the most enjoyable aspects of The Sister Queens is that no matter how convoluted the relationship, how twisted the tale, how unfamiliar the person at Court, Sophie Perinot never talks down to her readers. The tone of condescion from other historical fiction writers is absent entirely from these pages. Events are explained precisely and meticulously, nobles are referred to by their various names without reference to their every title or land (no "Lord Edward Sudbury, 2nd Earl of Westchester-on-the-Green, a Stuart and son of Lord......" type business before a character speaks/etc,) with a clear belief and respect that her readers can ably follow along.
I do wish that more had been shown of Eleanor's "toute seule" reign over England while her husband King Henry III was away. As Eleanor was my favorite and a very capable governor, a view of her directly in charge would've made a good contrast to the usual role she was forced to take. Elanor repeatedly maneuvers her husband into the Royal decisions and decrees which she deems correct before the regency, so a view into her own government would've been interesting to read. I'm also disappointed by the time that the novels ends at - 1255 - when both women have decades of still-tumultuous life ahead of them (Marguerite dies in 1295, Eleanor in 1291). I can't complain about the cut-off point too much or loudly because there is a lot of novel in what is provided (all 500 pages of Court intrigue, betrayals, war, love, uprisings) but I just want more. I want more about these two and their complicated, engrossing relationship from this author specifically.
With her debut novel, Sophie Perinot brings to life, once again, two fascinating woman about whom not much is concretely known. Perinot's Eleanor and Marguerite are not just historical figures reimagined and operating upon the page: they are vibrant, strong, flawed and above all: fascinating and refreshing to read for the entire 528 page length of the book. This is a book that makes me want to read more in the same vein: I've pre-ordered another novel just because it focuses on the four daughters of Savoy who would all marry Kings. This is a book that makes me want another from the author immediately. This is a book that I would love to see spun into a sequel completing the years of the lives of the two main characters. This was a wonderful read and one of my favorites so far this year. Move over Tudors, I think I have a new historical royal family obsession.
Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence both have the famed beauty of the Savoyard family, and the connections to win them crowns.
Marguerite's comes first, when she is married to Louis IX, the King of France. The two sisters, still very much children, tearfully part from each other in the shared bedroom of their father's castle on the night before Marguerite's departure, destined not to meet again for twenty years.
But their letters to each other bridge the distance between them, even when Eleanor becomes the bride of Henry III, King of England. Though the two Kings clash over land, the sisters continue to send missives as family members rather than Queens of rival countries.
The letters may be able to bridge the gap between their homes, but the dichotomies of their lives are not so easily conquered. Marguerite finds Louis to be a capable and admirable King, yet he is domineered by his mother, and his passion for God far outweighs any interest in his wife.
Henry III is a compassionate and loving husband, a true father to his children and companion to his wife. Yet his kingship leaves much to be desired, and Eleanor can't help but compare his shortcomings with those of Marguerite's husband, especially when Louis takes the cross to go on Crusade.
As the years pass the sisters learn to set aside their rivalry and learn from each other instead, as Marguerite borrows Eleanor's fiery fortitude in an attempt to win back her husband's affection... and ends up falling into the arms of another man instead. Meanwhile, after a political clash with Henry, Eleanor adopts Marguerite's calmer demeanor and sets aside her pride in order to restore her marriage to what it had been.
Spanning twenty years and an array of countries, THE SISTER QUEENS takes the reader to the courts of England and France, the warm and welcoming countryside of Provence, and the bloody crush of the Crusades. Politics and family, Kingly ambitions and sibling rivalry, love and lust all come into play between the pages, unfolding in a mesmerizing story about two Queens who were sisters above all else.
Sophie Perinot brings to life the story of two sisters, Marguerite, and Eleanor, the two eldest daughters of the Count of Provence and granddaughters of the Count of Savoy, who became the Queens of France and England during the 13th century. The book follows these two women as they begin their married lives and covers many years of their adulthood as they navigate the politics at both court and with each other. It is hard enough to be sisters, but when you are Queens of two countries that are ancient rivals, that is going to be tough!
The story is told to us in first person, present tense and alternates in narration between the two women. This could be considered to be difficult because both Marguerite and Eleanor really led such interesting lives and there were certain events that could have been fleshed out(ie. Simon de Montfort). However,Perinot makes it work by creating pretend letters between the two sisters at the beginning of each chapter. As a result, each voice is distinct without one queen overshadowing the other.
Although the focus is primarily on the lives of the sisters, I found myself really enjoying King Louis of France and King Henry of England even when their wives didn't.They were not cookie-cutter stereotypes either, Perinot really tried to flesh out their good points and the flaws that each man had. Henry was a wonderful father and husband, but made some poor choices as ruler of England. On the contrast, Louis was a determined ruler and defender of his faith,but lacked understanding when it came to his wife and children. I feel that my favorite moment between Louis and Marguerite was on the ship back to France after the Crusade when he makes it known that he is aware of her deceit. Oh the crackling tension!
The Sister Queens is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I found myself rereading passages several times, in awe of the way Sophie Perinot's mind works. Not only is the writing captivating, but the story of two sisters who became queens and spent many years apart brought me to tears on more than on occasion. This sweeping epic takes us from royal births in the queens' bedchambers to gripping adventures on the high seas with exquisite, fascinating detail. I cannot wait for the author's next book!
Great read!Thank God for Goodreads! I probably would not have bothered with this book (and several other historical fiction novels) because the covers of the books look like those found on cheap romantic novels. How wrong! This book is historical fiction at its best and all the positive reviews I found on Goodreads tempted me to read it. Glad I did.
I tried to read The Other Boleyn Girl many years ago, but I never got around to finishing it. I don't remember why, but somehow I lost interest in the medieval setting, the neverending intrigues, etc. However, The Sister Queens proved to be a compelling read; it was realistic and nuanced and melodious—without being too grating. Looking forward to more of this author's works.
In interest of full disclosure, I received an advanced copy of this book through first reads.
This delightful little gem has turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the year. The story is told through the eyes of Eleanor and Marguerite, using alternating chapters to give each woman her voice.
This format is something I traditionally do not like as I find that it usually interrupts the story for me. However, here it was done so well, it actually enhances the story.
Sophie Perinot does a fantastic job of fleshing out the characters. All of the characters are so alive and real, each complete with their own flaws and their own voices.
The story line itself moves at a relatively quick pace, but always had me wanting to know what was going to happen next.
The only complaint I have is that the book ended entirely too soon. I wanted it to keep going. I wanted to read about the lives of these two women and their Kings until their lives were over.
This debut novel is absolutely fantastic. Any fan of historical fiction would enjoy it. I look forward to seeing what else this author publishes!
I got halfway through and skimmed to the end. The author tells us in her Author Notes "The Sister Queens is very much the tale of Marguerite and Eleanor, but to tell that story is also to tell at least in part the stories of their husbands."
At the halfway point, the husband's stories were still just a background setting. I feel the author could have told us the sister's remarkable lives without leaving out such historical detail. It felt like I was reading Cliff Notes. I never felt like I was in the medieval times. This felt very current to me. I enjoyed up to page 50, but after that I simply lost interest. There was no reason for me to turn the page. I didn't care for the characters. If you're not going to be heavy on history, at least give me an interesting story. I went into this hoping to read about Simon de Montfort's fall from Henry's grace and see exactly how Henry III took on his reign after William Marshal had been his regent. Nope, this is just a very light read about two sister's relationship, as the author mentioned. I can't blame her for expecting more.
Did I like the book? Obviously, but I am not above admitting that much of my admiration stems from exposure to history of which I was not already familiar. A natural scholar, I spent much of my reading cross referencing people and events. Call it a weakness, but I give points to any author that can spark my curiosity in such a way. That being said I’m torn with how to approach rating and reviewing this piece. I love Perinot’s subject matter but I’m not sure I am sold on her writing.
The story itself makes for compelling literature, but that is the case with a lot of historic fiction. At some point a reader needs to weigh what the author brings to the table against what is provided them by the historic record. For much of the novel, Perinot gives life to two very different women but I feel she lost momentum in the latter third of the book. Somewhere along the way their voices grow faint, their characters less prominent, at times even fragmented against the political backdrop of their stories. Unfortunately this also killed off much of the pacing. Where I had been unable to put the book aside I soon found myself struggling to get through even a handful of pages.
If I have a concrete complaint about the book it is in regards to Marguerite’s oldest child, Blanche. Perinot goes to a great deal of trouble to illustrate the importance of family in both Eleanor and Marguerite’s lives. For several chapters they agonize over their inability to provide their respective kingdoms with an heir. Once they do have children, we are privy to the joy each finds in her role as mother. For this reason I find it odd that it is a paragraph in chapter nineteen that first references the early death of the French princess. The child passed away at age two or three in the year 1243, but Perinot’s narrative doesn’t mention the event until 1246 in a chapter told from Eleanor’s point of view while she struggles with her fear of losing Edward. Marguerite’s apparent lack of affection for her first born irks me. Louis and Jean Tristan are the favored of her brood but as a mother I find it utterly incomprehensible that one could lose a child and be indifferent. Needless to say I found the reference in chapter nineteen woefully inadequate, but my feelings on the matter changed dramatically in the latter portion of the novel when Marguerite claims she would lay down her life for her children. The declaration grated my nerves. Why should the reader believe she is capable of such devotion when we have been denied even the merest hint of maternal affection or grief for the young princess? For me, the omission proved the undoing of Marguerite’s character and greatly affected my assessment of Perinot’s work.
All things considered I am comfortable awarding four stars to Perinot’s Sister Queens, but it is a generous rating. The freshness of her subject matter went a long way in capturing both my interest and imagination and while I believe Perinot is without doubt an author to watch, I also feel there is significant room for growth.
The Sister Queens follows part of the lives of Margaret and Eleanor of Provence, two sisters who married Louis IX of France and Henry III of England.
Margaret is a dutiful and respectful wife. She is used to being first and perfect in everything, but soon she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage, with a husband too preoccupied with his reign and his faith to care about her. Eleanor, instead, is strong-willed and impetuous. She is not too thrilled to marry Henry, a less important monarch than his rival Louis, but she discovers her husband is a kind, loving man - even if not a very good king. Margaret and Eleanor are two very different women, but I really liked both of them and followed their different stories with equal interest. What I appreciated the most about the book was the relationship between them: even if they were apart for most of the novel, Perinot wonderfully showed how deep their relationship is, not only through the letters they sent each other, but also through the way each sister changed thanks to the influence of the other. Eleanor learned to be more patient and more subtle about her feelings, while Margaret let free some of the passion of her sister and learned to follow her heart . I also liked how rivalry was a part of their relationship, but in the end it was clear the genuine affection between them was more powerful.
Perinot covers only a part of Margaret's and Eleanor's lives. As she explains in the author's note, plenty of other adventures happened to the two sisters. It would be fantastic if Perinot decided to write a sequel! Anyway, I am definitely curious to see what this author will do next.
This is a beautifully written novel that carries readers from the medieval courts of England and France to the heat and hell of the crusades. As a Brit and a history major, I loved the subject matter, and the settings and character voices felt very authentic to me. I would not have guessed the author is American.
Despite the sweeping historical backdrop, however, THE SISTER QUEENS is really a story about two remarkable women and the power of family. As a reader, character always comes first for me, and I loved the journey I took with these sisters. They were not only shrewd queens but also devoted mothers. Marguerite and Eleanor felt so real to me from the first pages, and I cried buckets when they were reunited. The three leading men were beautifully drawn too--all heroic at times but also flawed.
I strongly recommend this novel. It's a fabulous read that inspired me to research the real women behind the story.
Pretty good overall. My interest flagged somewhat in the middle, so perhaps the book was over-long, but I might also have just been easily distracted then. The alternating viewpoints was mostly fine, but sometimes I would forget what had last happened with one after reading from the other's view for a few chapters. Dividing the book between the two sisters also meant that neither could have a full book treatment. I wished the story had gone on longer -- Eleanor raising money to save her husband and son from rebels would be a story worth telling -- but at the same time I understood why the author framed things the way she did. The writing style was fine and easy to read and overall my impressions are very positive -- the book just didn't have that special spark that could have made it a 5-star read.
My first Sophie Perinot novel and I really enjoyed this historical fiction book. It was about strong female queens who really lived and had a big impact in a male dominated world. Medieval fiction at its best and no it was not about Henry VIII. It is great to find an author who can write about the medieval period and kings and queens without it being about Henry VIII or one of his wives.
The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot is the fictional account of the sisters of Provence, Marguerite who becomes Queen of France and Eleanor who becomes Queen of England. The story begins in their childhood giving background to the closeness between the sisters which would last throughout their lives. A well researched book which provides the backbone to a richly detailed, beautifully written tale that propels the reader to the 13th century England, France, and the Holy Land. The main characters are multi faceted with a strong secondary cast, Perinot weaves each into the thread of the story expertly. The reader gets to know Marguerite and Eleanor intimately. The sisterly bond is tried and tested during periods of Marguerite and Eleanor's adult life and would remain steadfast through the passage of time and emerge stronger than ever. Family love and loyalty withstand separation, politics, and war. I especially liked how the author wrote Marguerite, Eleanor, King Louis, and King Henry. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses. Sophie Perinot has a deft hand at humanizing her characters so that the reader can empathize with each character and what they're going through. Another feature of the book I really enjoyed is the letters Perinot authored and that were exchanged between the sisters throughout the book. The author wove the letters seamlessly into the plot line and each were essential to the plot and giving a depth to the relationship between the sisters. I thoroughly loved this book and it will be going directly on my keeper shelf. I enjoyed learning about Marguerite and Eleanor whom I previously didn't know much about. I would highly recommend this book to any reader who likes a well written and well researched tale.
Right off the top, let me say I really liked this book. It's a fully engaging and thoroughly believable novel. I was swept up in the stories and interactions of the sisters of the renowned Savoy family, Marguerite and Eleanor, from the first moments of introduction. Their very different personalities are richly developed, and while they are different in temperament and life challenges, they are both so intriguing and lovable it's difficult to call one a favorite over the other. I absorbed this book as if it were a story about Diana, Princess of Wales, and Katherine of England. It's that enjoyable to read. Before I knew it, I was half way through the novel!
Sophie Perinot is a solid writer with a good grasp of characterization. Her two sisters, as well as their two kings, the wicked mother-in-law ~ White Queen Blanche of Castille, and the sisters' children are so magnificently drawn. I could absolutely see them alive and feel their hearts' emotions and motivations. Beautifully written. Dialog was also appeared to be effortlessly rendered; it flowed and felt so natural. The intimate communications between characters were meaningful and telling.
I've read many a historical novel, some about each of these queens and their families, so I don't think it's any small task to have compiled this book, joining both dynasties in what reads with such elegance and ease. The book flows with intelligence and clarity. I found that one of the most refreshing things about it. I didn't have to be a scholar to understand the political "cookings" behind the thrones! Thank God, Ms Perinot distilled that down for me!
This is a romantic and absorbing historical fiction, one I found myself virtually flowing through effortlessly. It's a good read about two admirable women who birthed the foundations of world empires, and set the tones of historical manners and elegance for generations. Their life-long devotion to each other was poignant and an example that united their countries in heart and blood for generations.
I loved the novel, and pass it on to you with a high recommendation.
This book was awesome. The plot line was intriguing and being able to see the parallel lives of these two great sisters and queens gave you a greater understanding of the bond they shared and how much it had to endure. If you have a sister you should most definetly read this book because it encompasses all feelings sisters go through and how they can never be replaced. As if I hadn't like the book enough the author's note made me love it even more as Sophie Perinot talks about sisterly and bonds and the fact this is historical fiction not necessarily fact.
'Tis sisters who shape the world plain and simple. A perfect last sentence to this wonderful story about competitive sisters who become queens. Has plenty of passion & intrigue & gives you a glimpse into that period if time. It's historical fiction & the author admits that, but she stays faithful to the facts while telling a compelling story. I would love to meet this author & look forward to reading more of her books.
Will Shortz’s job, as the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle, is to ensure that his readers are provided an intriguing list of clues for every entry, across and down. He draws little boxes in a grid, arranges every letter just so. And then publishes the most challenging one of the week in the Thursday edition of the Times.
Writing crosswords is hardly a task that will result in compliments from the reader, for Shortz can expect only three possible outcomes:
If he screws it up, the readers will say:
1. This crossword is too easy. It’s stupid. –OR- 2. This crossword is impossible. It’s stupid.
Tragically for Shortz and his contributors, when done properly, the reader’s reaction is not thanks or appreciation, but rather,
3. I am so damned good at crosswords!
After having finished Sophie Perinot’s The Sister Queens, I can confidently assert:
I am so damned good at reading historical fiction.
Every book is puzzle, and the author’s job is to provide the clues, the boxes, the letters. Then let the reader experience the joy of filling it in. It’s a sign of the sophistication of Perinot’s approach that she understands this relationship between author and reader, and leads just far enough — before demurely retreating and letting the reader’s imagination do the rest.
There’s a moment early in the story when Marguerite is pricked by her sister Eleanor, who is pinning a broach to her (a gift from Marguerite’s intended, Louis IX). Marguerite resolves not to mention the small wound to the family surrounding her, as she is the only one privy to the flash in her sister Eleanor’s eyes, and knows it was done intentionally.
I can’t express how masterfully Perinot has captured the relationship that drives this novel in that one moment. She has set the stage in action, in deed. And I, the reader, have discovered it like a pearl in an oyster, careless to the fact that Perinot was diving under moonlight the night before to set the mollusk exactly where I would find it, and between gnarled shells, carefully inserted a cultured pearl of rare beauty.
This is not an author lecturing the reader. How many lesser writers have I read (some with millions of books sold) who would have ham-handed a sentence into the book, something along the lines of: “Eleanor had always been envious of her older sister.”? After all, it seems like such an innocuous thing to say – and true! – and surely, as an author, one longs for the comfort of knowing that the reader won’t fail to understand the relationship that you are trying so desperately to convey through words.
But there’s a courage to writing well. A trust. I liken it to those moments when one of my toddling children is doing something particularly cringe-inducing — balancing an overfull glass of milk over carpeting, slamming the car door with fingers particularly close to the strike, scurrying up some playground equipment designed for children far more dexterous than their wavering balance. As a good parent, I have to let my children try — and sometimes fail — because it is only down the road of risk that maturity comes.
And The Sister Queens is a work of obvious artistic maturity. I can only hope that Perinot has crafted this tale with the punctilious precision of New York Times crossword. If she merely intuited it, because of a natural aptitude for understanding character, action, voice, I’m afraid I’m so envious that I’ll have to hunt her down with intensions as black as Blanche (‘the dragon’, Louis IX’s overbearing mother), and frankly, I don’t care to be the subject of an interstate manhunt, nor spoil my chance to read Perinot’s next book.
This maturity informs another aspect of the book that I found deftly handled. In transporting me back to the 13th century, Perinot allows modern sensibilities to fall away, and lets the truth of the time drive her sisters’ attitudes and ambitions. She doesn’t condescend to them by forcing an anachronistic desire to be the ‘equal’ of any king, these aren’t post-2000 Disney princesses. She inserts no speeches hinting at nascent feminism. Perinot finds her connection in a way that is human — not political — treating the protagonists with respect for who they were. Perinot honors her characters by celebrating them in a way I suspect the real sisters of Savoy would have understood.
There are of course nits in a work as sprawling as The Sister Queens. I wish Perinot’s notes on the historicity of the novel had come as introduction instead of afterword; as I read, I think I could have more thoroughly fallen into her authorial arms if I had trusted more the boundaries of fact and fiction. As it was, a little bird perched on my shoulder, occasionally asking, Wait a minute? How much of this is actually real?
At times, too, Perinot loses narrative focus, and her story drifts until she can reach a historical guidepost that allows her to pick up a new conflict. These episodes are probably unavoidable in a work tied to actual lives; they were never serious enough that I put the book down. Her decision to write in first person left me sometimes longing for the greater descriptive freedom that comes with third; I would have like to have seen in more detail some of the grand courts, churches and battles; hardly possible in the intimate style of narrative she chose. A titillating encounter seems to be parachuted in every seventy pages or so with the regularity of a monthly visitor (as to whether this is due to the sensibilities of the author, or the intended market, I suspect the latter). Last, this book screams ‘targeted toward women’, and as a paunchy, middle-aged man, I sometimes had that excruciating discomfort that can only be experienced by being the only male at a baby shower. The cover art didn’t inspire me to read this in public view.
But these hardly rise to a level that impacted my enjoyment of the novel. All in all, a fascinating, enjoyable read. I don’t think I can offer any higher compliment than the following three words, having now closed the last page on Marguerite and Eleanor, The Sister Queens:
(Once again, I'm rounding up. I'd rather give this about 3 and 3/4 stars).
Sophie Perinot's novel tells the tale of Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence, two sisters who ended up being queens. The oldest, Marguerite is married to Louis of France and a few years later, Eleanor marries Henry of England.
On the romance side, Eleanor starts off with the better one. Despite the age difference between Henry and she, the two fall in love. She births four children, but the drama doesn't lie there. It is how Eleanor navigates her husband's mercurial moods and the power struggle between his barons and the Savoy relatives Eleanor surrounds herself with. Marguerite, on the other hand, seems to start with a good marriage but it sours within a chapter. Louis is controlled by his mother, who refuses to give up her power to her son's wife, and his fanatical devotion to God. It seems it takes his council to force him to sleep with Marguerite in order to conceive a son and it takes a few tries (two daughters come first) before little Louis is born. But Marguerite suffers it, determined to be a good wife and mother.
So Marguerite's tale is the more dramatic one and in some ways, the better one. It doesn't become apparent until halfway through the book, though. Which is also when the romance aspect of Marguerite's story picks up as well. The handsome and intelligent Jean de Joinville is introduced to her and the two are drawn to each other. But nothing happens for a few chapters, not until Louis nearly dies and pledges to fight a Crusade. Marguerite goes with him, hoping this will help her become closer to Louis. And she does so, though she doesn't end up closer to her husband but rather Jean. More on that later, though, I promise.
I have been mulling it over, especially considering an early complaint anyone who follows me knows I had with this book. The pacing, in my opinion, was too fast. And her description was lacking. As a writer, I've learned that it's much like Pirates of the Caribbean--they are more guidelines than rules. So "show, don't tell" isn't writing dogma. But it's still important. I feel like I didn't connect with the characters until well into the story. Perinot remained very shallow with them. For example, Marguerite has longed to be pregnant and struggled to conceive. Do we see the moments where she realizes she is pregnant? Nope. We find out she's pregnant a few paragraphs into the next section--and she's already five months gone! This is what I mean by establishing a connection. I didn't really feel for Marguerite or see it from her perspective until she goes on the Crusade. She wanted to cover so much in their lives, characterization suffered. And I wondered how this might be rectified, thinking as a writer. I get Ms. Perinot wanted to write about both Eleanor and Marguerite but I think time devoted to Eleanor might have been better served developing Marguerite as a character.
Is it that Eleanor is boring? No, I don't think so. When reading some of her parts, there seems to be hints of good plots. But I think I know what may have happened. Any writer can tell you that there comes a time where one character grabs your attention. You find yourself compelled to write this character and sometimes other characters suffer. I believe that may have happened--Marguerite's story was more compelling and Eleanor suffered.
But once things start moving, Ms. Perinot can engage the reader. I was quite taken with how she wrote Marguerite and Jean's relationship. Normally, I wouldn't condone an affair. But she wrote it in such a way I couldn't help but root for those two to be together. The two had some of the best sex scenes in the book as well. It is really within these chapters that Perinot begins to delve into Marguerite's feelings and allows the reader to connect with her.
Perinot chose to write the story in first person, which makes it more baffling about how long it took me to connect with the characters. Perhaps I was briefly distracted by the fact the story was written in present tense. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though most writers are cautioned to stick with the past tense. And in some ways, I feel perhaps Perinot should've done so as well. There are times where Marguerite or Eleanor slide into remembering something that happened either during her girlhood or prior to the chapter. These are written in past tense and it is jarring when the story returns to present tense. But going back to the narrator, it may not be entirely baffling why my connection took so long. The beginning of the book is more reporting than storytelling. Descriptions aren't the best until it comes to clothes. Then Perinot almost crosses into costume porn. But if she had stopped to describe a bit more, things may have been a little different in my opinion.
I do recommend it--just be patient with the beginning. It gets better, I promise.
Ever since I saw the synopsis of The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot, I felt I had to read it. I have been on more of an historical fiction reading kick for awhile now especially since reading Sandra Byrd's novel To Die For last year so I am fascinated by the Queens that stand behind the Kings. I think we so often hear the tales of the Kings that I love the authors that are telling the tales of the queens. Yes I know they are fiction, but I feel the authors are doing the research and telling the stories with an authenticity that at least rings true to me. Of course as I have stated before I am not a history buff, so please if you are and your read this book and come to a completely different take remember (1) I am not a history buff, I love history, but I am not one who remembers lots of historical facts or periods and (2) I read fiction purely for enjoyement. So that said I will continue with my review.
Sometimes even after being completely intrigued by a synopsis I get scared when sitting down to a 500-page historical novel. I think nothing of reading the unabridged version of The Stand, but that is a typical genre for me. Historical Fiction is still new to me and I still fear I will be bored by facts and what bored me in history class. So I will admit to putting this one off. Wow am I sorry I did that. I was honestly captivated from the very first page as I read the tale of Marguerite and Eleanor, sisters who were in competition at home and then were wed off one-by-one to Kings. And not just any Kings, but Kings of competing lands, and important kings, the King of France, Louis IX and the King of England, Henry III. Now I knew absolutely nothing of these kings and not much of this time frame but it did not matter. Ms. Perinot wove the scenery, the courts and the characters together beautifully. I felt like I was there with Marguerite and Eleanor as they became use to life in distant lands and use to life without each other and without their close family. Especially Marguerite who was not even allowed to keep her servants. As Ms. Perinot set the story I felt more and more drawn in and began to not even notice the time passing away on Saturday afternoon, nor the over 250 pages that quickly passed.
Not only is there great character development because we get to know the girls when they are mere teenagers. But there is the intrigue of court. There are the intracies of marriage. One marriage starts off beautifully only to be thwarted by her mother-in-law. The other while the husband seems less than ideal ends up being a more than ideal match. However I think the thing I liked most besides the romance was watching each Queen observe all that went on around her and manipulate things for the good of herself (not in a selfish way, usually for her husband and children) and her country. Proving that women have always moved in the background and while Ms. Clinton may have been one of the first First Ladies to do it in this country, but she hasn't been the only woman working to strengthen her man in leadership. Granted in the 13th century is was much more behind the scenes.
Of course there are problems each must work through or there would not be a plot, but each problem keeps the reader and kept me turning the pages. I was so enthralled by both Marguerite and Eleanor that I had to know how they would fair, would they come out okay, would they live happily or at least satisfactorily through the end? And where would Ms. Perinot take them next? The Sister Queens was more than I could have ever asked for in a book and now reigns in my top three historical fiction novels with Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter and Sandra Byrd's To Die For. For me that is some great company. I will be highly recommending The Sister Queens to all of my friends, even ones who don't read historical fiction. I think it's just a wonderful novel that can appeal to anyone who loves to read. It has the intrigue of a suspense novel, the romance of a romance novel, the family story of a general fiction or family saga (though not through the generations), it could be a sister novel. I even think through the historical aspect alone it could appeal to men, though the romance and sister aspect make it more of an appeal to women, but my husband seemed pretty interested when I told him about it last night. I just can't say enough. Ms. Perinot has crafted a well-written and well-plotted novel in The Sister Queens and I will definitely be on the look out for her novels in the future.
In the thirteenth century the Count and Countess of Provence produced four beautiful daughters. Though all married into either France or England and became Queens, the two eldest–Marguerite and Eleanor–were noted for their sisterly devotion, which would ultimately lead to the Treaty of Paris in later years.
Marguerite, the eldest and first to marry, set forth to France with pleasant reports of King Louis IX, her betrothed, but unwittingly walked into a court where the Queen Mother, Blanche of Castile, reigned and would spend many years fighting “the dragon” for her place. Louis was exceptionally devoted to first religion and second to his mother, the White Queen. At first the marriage was successful and Marguerite excelled at swallowing her pride and conforming to his wishes, but as time passed and she found she had neither influence nor the affectionate devotion she so desired, her feelings began to stray to a certain courtier, Jean de Joinville, Seneschal of Champagne.
Meanwhile Eleanor had married Henry III of England and enjoyed all the things Marguerite had hoped for. Henry was devoted to her, she was directly involved in politics and members of her family, called “The Savoyards” by the disenchanted English, were given high positions and lands. Henry, like his father King John before him, was not the most apt of rulers and faced many conflicts with the powerful barons. There were storms in the marriage, which made for interesting correspondence between the sisters, and it was pleasant to witness the growing maturity and life lessons as the years went by.
Before the Treaty of Paris, France and England were pitted against each other is a dispute for power over vassal states in which Marguerite and Eleanor were in opposing camps, and the matter of their youngest sister, Beatrice, marrying into France caused a temporary rift between the sisters. Through everything the sisters remained allied, though they would not set eyes on each other for nearly two decades. Frequent letters, which are chapter headings in the novel, sustained their friendship, containing wise words and carefully crafted rebukes and advice.
Though not as expansive as Sherry Jones’ Four Sisters, All Queens (which I recently read and reviewed for HNR), The Sister Queens is very detailed on Marguerite’s and Eleanor’s relationship in particular, and Marguerite’s illicit affair with de Joinville. Both are very well crafted historical novels with exceedingly fleshed-out characters. Jones’ writing is reminiscent of Chadwick, while Perinot’s writing style reminds me of my revered Jean Plaidy–that is high praise indeed from this reader. If you’re reading both novels, I would put a few books in between them so as to better distinguish the authors’ differing takes on events and exchanges, which surprisingly can make sense either way. The Queen from Provence by Jean Paidy has moved up on my list of must reads, as well as her novel, The Battle of the Queens, which features Blanche of Castile (the White Queen) and Isabella of Angouleme.
Sophie Perinot has crafted a fantastic tale of two sisters who were born and raised to greatness, and managed to remain true to each other even though their husbands were adversaries. Not to say they didn't have some ups and downs and arguments and rivalries as sisters will have, and though they both ascend to the same lofty position, they each have their own path to take, with vastly different results. The story alternates between the sisters as they begin their marriages and take up their roles as queens, seamlessly interweaving the histories of both kingdoms with their personal stories, and taking the reader on a journey throughout 13th century Provence, Paris, London, and the Holy Land. The sisters keep up a regular correspondence, confiding their hopes and fears to each other as Eleanor strives to support her husband's largely ineffectual rule, and as Marguerite endures her husband's lack of interest and her overbearing mother-in-law's cruelty, and their stories are as full of glamour, passion, and high drama as queen's lives should be.
I took my time savoring this exceptional historical fiction debut. Sophie Perinot's writing style is simple and honest and all the more eloquent for it. As I was reading I was reminded of one of my favorite historical fiction authors, Sharon Kay Penman. (Although Ms. Perinot's style is deliciously more sexy :) There's not a word out of place, and I must have marked a dozen beautiful passages of description and observation. Whether the emotion is grief, anger, or love, Perinot gives it life and evokes it from the reader. She gives her queens the freedom to be real women, with all of their hopes and dreams and triumphs and disappointments, yet she keeps them within the constraints of their time. Though they are both wise and passionate women, they are also subservient to their husbands and defined by their roles as consorts. The story is well-crafted and perfectly paced, culminating in the coming together of the English and French courts and a long-awaited reunion of the sisters that has a few surprises in store, and that will leave a lasting mark on history. I couldn't put it down and relished the poignant ending. And Perinot has included a great author's note explaining the choices she made and how she arrived at some of her conclusions.
Historical fiction lovers rejoice! A new and true talent has arrived on the scene!
The Count of Provence has much to be proud of and top on the list are his beautiful daughters. Marguerite has beauty to spare on the outside and within. Being the eldest as well as the most patient and calm of the sisters, Marguerite is married to Louis IX and becomes Queen of France. Along with her crown, her marriage brings her a handsome man who Marguerite finds herself drawn to. In the early days of their marriage, Louis and she spend as much time as they can together and seem as though they will have a compatible and wonderful match, however as Louis's mother increases her hold on him, Louis soon begins to forgo his marriage duties in order to better serve the church.
Eleanor, equally beautiful but more strong-willed and outspoken than her sister, marries Henry III to become Queen of England. Though Henry is several years her elder and not as handsome as she would have hoped, he dotes on her and is determined to make her every wish his command. They strike up a well-knit marriage that allows Eleanor to speak her mind but keep Henry close. In the midst of their reign, Eleanor soon discovers that while Henry tries his best and is a very good man, he is not a very good king and she must decide to either overlook this or try to use her influence to change him.
Told from the perspectives of Marguerite and Eleanor, this is a novel that I quickly lost myself in. It was written beautifully and Perinot does an amazing job of bringing these two characters to life. The sisters were well balanced in their personalities and I found myself vacillating between admiration and favor of one sister to the other sister and then back again as I progressed in the story. There were times when I found myself thinking, "Oh, well Eleanor would have handled that better" or "You should have done what Marguerite would have done" as though I were thinking and weighing the actions of people I had known for years. In addition to the sisters, Perinot gives readers a different perspective of Henry and Louis beyond what they did for their countries during their reigns. Instead, it focuses on the relationships they have with their wives and children and shows that even if they might have been one of the most favored kings, they were not necessarily the best husband or father. It was a wonderful book and I cannot recommend it enough because of its realistic characters and the historical setting that it was obvious Perinot took years researching to create.
The pages of this book absolutely flew by, it is a testimony to just how well written these characters were and how invested in their lives I became. You are simply sucked into all the hardships that these women face. It is hard not to connect to their relationship. A superb read.
Most historical fiction books tend to focus on the men. I think that this is because far more information comes down through history about them. Particularly the further back in time you go. Women were little more than chattel in the time period of The Sister Queens - oh and brood mares. They were pretty much worthless if they didn't provide an heir; especially noble women. This is why I truly enjoy books told from the viewpoint of the wives - and I really like them when I have read books from the same time period from the point of view of the men.
The Sister Queens fills that bill perfectly. It tells the tale of two daughters of Provence who went on to become the queens of France and England in the thirteenth century. Marguerite marries Louis IX of France, a man who has come down through history as Saint Louis. Eleanor marries Henry III of England, not known as one of England's best monarchs. The sisters are very close before they are separated and remain close for most of their lives.
The book pulled me in from the start. It alternates between the sisters with fictionalized letters between them as chapter headers. Ms. Perinot remarks in her Author's Note that she is herself a sister so she well knows the bonds that sisters develop. Both Marguerite and Eleanor have arrogant personalities that come from being born to rule. Eleanor I think more than her sister due to being the second born. History notes she was a "virago" and she was not well loved by the English people. Marguerite had to contend with her overbearing mother in law, Blanche of Castille who ruled Louis with an iron thumb.
Ms. Perinot's characterization of the two women is fascinating and I found it quite hard to put the book down; in fact, I read it in one sitting. I love writing that grabs you and won't let you go like that. I want to continue with these two women and their complicated men. I hope that Ms. Perinot is considering further books on unsung women in history as she does have a magical way with words. A way that brings long dead characters to very real life.
Eleanor and Marguerite of Provence, sisters who would be queens. Eleanor Queen consort of England and Marguerite Queen consort of France are the main characters of The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot. Eleanor was married to King Henry III in 1236 at the age of 13 and they had five children. Marguerite married the King of France also at the age of 13 and they had 11 children. The sisters were separated by marriage but had kept up with each other through their correspondence even though they were rivals. They also had two other sisters, Beatrice and Sanchia who married brothers of King Henry and King Louis bonding the relationships between England and France which eventually led to the Treaty of Paris. Marguerite accompanied her husband on his first crusade and was instrumental with coming up with the monies to free King Louis and his men from the infidels....Eleanor was not especially popular with some of the barons in King Henry's court but she was a loyal and supporting wife to her husband. I love historical fiction and I have to say that this was another favorite. I have not read a lot about these two sisters so it was refreshing to read something different. Sophie Perinot tells a very compelling story of two very diverse but strong women. In the writing of this book, I could tell that there was extensive research into the lives of these two women and their families and they were portrayed as very real women who adored their children and would do anything to keep them safe and protect their heritage. I highly recommend this book to all lovers of England's history.
I really liked the beginning of the book, it was interesting and kept me page turning. The idea for the story was interesting. I would have liked to see the kings a bit more fleshed out but still would have given the book a much higher rating if it were not for how the author chose to write Marguerite's storyline.