Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Sun King Conspiracy by Yves Jégo & Denis Lépée

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 1, 2016

Who can I trust in this nest of vipers? 1661 is a year of destiny for France and its young king, Louis XIV. Cardinal Mazarin, the Chief Minister who has governed throughout the King's early years, lies dying. As a fierce power struggle develops to succeed him, a religious brotherhood, guardian of a centuries-old secret, also sees its chance to influence events. Gabriel de Pontbriand, an aspiring actor employed as secretary to Moliere, becomes unwittingly involved when documents stolen from Mazarin's palace fall into his hands. The coded papers will alter Gabriel's life for ever, and their explosive contents have the power to change the course of history for France and the rising Sun King himself.

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*** Note: This title was previously published as The Sun King Rises.

Louis XIV
I’d love to say an appreciation of French history led me to The Sun King Conspiracy, but I’d be lying through my teeth. The reality is that the book has a genuinely gorgeous jacket and I, as we all know, am an unashamed cover slut. And when I say unashamed, I mean unashamed. I actually requested the previous incarnation of the title, The Sun King Rises, from Gallic Books last year for the same reason. Yeah…

As to the narrative itself, I hardly know where to begin. Historically the novel covers a lot of ground and I was thoroughly impressed with how Jégo and Lépée utilized both fact and period gossip within the fabric of their fiction. Louis XIV of France, Anne of Austria, Cardinal Mazarin, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, François d'Orbay, and Nicolas Fouquet feature prominently in Gabriel de Pontbriand’s story. The much celebrated Mancini sisters make notable appearances and there is even cameo by Charles II. The magnificence and magnitude of the stage Jégo and Lépée create matches the complexities of the conspiracy they construct. Some readers may find their approach somewhat overwhelming, but I personally loved every minute of it.

In terms of pacing, the novel never lets up which is saying something as various editions range between 415 and 496 pages in length. It’s got little on the unabridged edition of Les Miserables, but make no mistake, The Sun King Conspiracy is a beast. It is dense and atmospheric, but the story itself never stops moving. Hit after hit after hit, one twist after another, Jégo and Lépée kept me on the edge of my seat beginning to end. As before, their style and presentation may not be suitable for every reader, but I thought the velocity of the narrative one of its greatest features and greatly appreciated how it complimented the tension, depth, and intricacies of the plot.

That said, there were a few things that bugged. Not enough to downgrade to four stars, but they made a big enough impression that they deserve mention. There is a resolution, but Gabriel de Pontbriand’s story is by no means complete and that irked. I’m not sure if the book has a sequel or not, but it definitely needs one. I’d have also liked more definitive detail regarding the secrets the Brotherhood risks so much to protect. It’s a great story line, but comparatively, I felt it less developed than others in the narrative.

Would I recommend the book? In a heartbeat. The Sun King Conspiracy is a thrilling tale of power, riddles, and treachery. Definitely something I’d recommend as a standalone or as a companion piece to Enchantress of Paris.

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“You are taking terrible risks, Monsieur Superintendent. A crown is a heavy burden to wear when one is not its owner… “
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