Saturday, November 22, 2008

In the Shadow of the Sun King by Golden Keyes Parsons

In the Shadow of the Sun King

In the Shadow of the Sun King
by Golden Keyes Parsons

Trade Paperback: 366 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2008

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Blurb:
Madeleine's shared history with the king holds the key to her family's life...or death.

Seventeenth century France is an unsafe time to be a Huguenot. By order of King Louis XIV, all French Protestants must immediately convert or face imprisonment--or death. The king's dragoons ferret out the nonconformists, pillaging villages and destroying homesteads.

When the king's soldiers descend on the Clavell estate, the family's fate hangs in the balance. Quickly, quietly, they send their two sons into hiding, trusting that the young age of their daughter will guarantee her protection. But the dragoons will not be dissuaded; they hold the manor hostage looking for clues of their guilt or innocence. However, Madeleine Clavell, the lady of the manor, holds a secret--one possible chance to save the family. She and the king share a past.

Once a beautiful young lady in the French court whom Louis loved, Madeleine travels to Versailles to plead for mercy from the fickle king, hoping to regain his favor and save her family. It's a gamble, but she is left with no other choice. Madeleine soon faces an agonizing decision--one that changes her family forever.

This novel is a historical fiction, but I'm also listing it under romance since that plays a major role in the story. The world-building was very good and vividly paints a picture of what life was like at the time. The pacing is excellent, and the story is suspenseful--or, at least, should be considering what's happening.

The book, especially after page 92, was well-written. Before that point, the adults were very flat and predictable even if the events happening to them were exciting. It was the Feisty Heroine battling against the Villainous Military Commander and the other adults stayed vaguely in background. However, the parts about the children in Jean's point of view were vivid and highly suspenseful. After page 92, the adults stopped playing such cliche roles and filled out into interesting characters.

My main problem with the story is that I didn't like our main character and so didn't care if disaster befell her. Madeleine's main talents are to run headlong into trouble and then feel sorry for herself over the bad results of those actions. Worse, she never learns from her mistakes to the point of changing her ways. Her loyalty to her family and faithfulness to her husband are admirable, but she even flirts with forsaking those qualities. Though she seems to be held in high regard for her faith, her actions show little real trust in her God. Frankly, I can't understand why three men declare their undying love for the spoiled brat.

I also initially didn't like the husband. He's a wimp in the beginning (though he sure pays for it later and comes out a better man for it). He knew that letting Madeleine go to court would put his family in danger if she refused to be the king's mistress (and she swore she wouldn't do that), yet he gives in to her demands to go because he 'can never stop her once she sets her mind to do something.' Yet the servants would have willingly stopped her from going at his slightest command. Obviously, he didn't care about his family enough to stand up to her foolish behavior.

On the other hand, I liked almost all the other adults (including all but the cliche bad guy) and all of the children. I kept reading because I did care what became of them.

Overall, it was worth reading even though the main character irritated me. If you're a fan of feisty heroines, you'll probably even enjoy her. There were no explicit sex scenes or cussing. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
Madeleine paused at the well, her bucket of freshly picked spring flowers teetering on the edge of the stone rim. Barking dogs intruded upon the late afternoon stillness, and birds rose from the trees into the sky. Then she heard the pounding hooves.

The bucket dropped from her grasp and clattered to the cobblestone walkway, scattering the colorful blossoms. She lifted her skirt and ran from the side of the manor toward the entrance of the estate, dispersing quacking ducks and geese as she went. She looked down the road, through the canopy of arching trees, then heard Francois before she saw him.

Her husband had ridden into Grenoble earlier that morning to oversee the sale of two of their pedigree horses. Now he galloped into view. What could be wrong? His dark hair flew around his shoulders from beneath his hat. His eyes were wild with terror.

"Dragoons! S-saw them from the ridge." He reined in his horse, and chips of dirt and rocks showered in every direction, pelting Madeleine in the face. He jumped to the ground, and his breath came in gulps. "Hurry, they're just a few minutes behind me. Where's Jean? We must get the boys to the cave at once."

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