The year is 1675, the place France. Louis XIV, “the Sun King,” reigns in Versailles. It is a bad time to be Huguenot, but that is what Madeleine Clavell and her family are In the Shadow of the Sun King. Thus far, they have enjoyed the protection of the Edict of Nantes and perhaps the favour of King Louis himself, Madeleine’s first love.
Even so, the Clavells are prepared for the persecution that others have faced. When the dragoons show up at their estate, they send their sons into hiding and prepare to entertain their unwelcome guests.
Thus opens Golden Keyes Parson’s debut novel In the Shadow of the Sun King. The Clavells are Golden’s ancestors. In the Shadow of the Sun King is based upon an ancient genealogy she discovered, telling of the persecutions her family faced under Louis XIV. Her imagination took over from there, and historical research supplied the rest of the facts.
This book was provided for review courtesy of the publisher; all opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Madeleine arrives at Versailles in an attempt to request Louis’ favour for her family. She’s banking on his previous love for her—a love that she ran from, realizing Louis would never marry her and she couldn’t be just his mistress. Her husband and mother know Louis better than she does, for they try to dissuade her from going to Louis. Stubbornly, Madeleine believes in her girlhood love.
At first, Louis is delighted to see her and to remember that love too. But when Madeleine refuses to give him any favours in exchange for the one that she asks, Louis retaliates with all the vengeance of a rejected lover and all the power of the king of France.
As the Clavell family is torn apart and dragged to all the corners of France, they must rely on their faith in God to carry them through. At times, this faith is real, as when Madeleine cries out to God in the feeling that her prayers aren’t answered. At other times, the faith seemed written for the story and was a bit too polished.
Towards the end of In the Shadow of the Sun King, Pierre, one of Louis’ courtiers who has also fallen in love with Madeleine, converts. While his conversion is expected, it is a little too perfect. Golden also supplies some facts about the Huguenots’ beginnings and their founder, John Calvin.
My Thoughts on In the Shadow of the Sun King
Golden makes Louis’ persecution of the Huguenots a political issue, rather than a religious one. Louis doesn’t care what people believes; he simply wants France unified, with “one king, one faith, one country.” Decades earlier, the Huguenots had caused the unrest by persecuting the Catholics, including St. Isaac Jogues.
In the Shadow of the Sun King is fascinating for its details of the everyday life of French nobles in the seventeenth century and of what life was like in the court of the Sun King. I thoroughly enjoyed Golden’s descriptions of Versailles, with its constant construction and ever-expanding gardens.
One of the characters in the book asks why the Protestants and Catholics can’t get along, when they worship the same God. It’s a question I’ve often wondered myself. I also wish that, as another character points out, religion were not used as a political tool.
In the Shadow of the Sun King first caught my attention because I love historical fiction. King Louis XIV was one king that stood out in my memory from my university history classes. I enjoyed the novel, though at times it got a bit slow. I felt frustrated by Madeleine’s inaction in places. Perhaps she had no choice but to wait, as she does, or to ask others for help. I wanted to see a more active heroine, who perhaps returns to France to look for her husband and daughter after getting her sons to safety in Geneva.
I enjoyed the coincidences that brought the family back together, and the fact that the ending was not too “happily-ever-after”—there are still concerns and questions, which will perhaps be answered in the next book in the series, A Prisoner in Versailles.
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