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A Village Girl Serving at the Court of the Sun King - an Editorial Review of "Courting the Sun"

Courting the Sun book cover

Book Blurb:

“A rich journey through 17th century France in all its aspects—its bucolic countryside, the still-unmatched splendor of the court of Louis XIV, and the struggling French colony in Canada.” –Margaret George, New York Times bestselling author of Elizabeth I, The Autobiography of Henry VIII & The Memoirs of Cleopatra

France, 1670. On her sixteenth birthday, Sylvienne d’Aubert thinks her dream has come true. She holds in her hands an invitation from King Louis XIV to attend his royal court. However, her mother harbors a longtime secret she's kept from both her daughter and the monarch, a secret that could upend Sylvienne’s life.

In Paris, Sylvienne is quickly swept up in the romance, opulence, and excitement of royal life. Assigned to serve King Louis's favorite mistress, she is absorbed into the monarch's most intimate circle. But the naïve country girl soon finds herself ill-prepared for the world of intrigue, illicit affairs, and power-mongering that takes place behind the shiny façade of Versailles.

This debut historical novel from Peggy Joque Williams captures the vibrancy and quandaries of 17th century life for a village girl seeking love and excitement during the dangerous reign of the Sun King.

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Author Bio:

Peggy Joque Williams author photo

Peggy Joque Williams is the author of Courting the Sun, as well as co-author of two mystery novels, On the Road to Death’s Door and On the Road to Where the Bells Toll, written under the penname M. J. Williams. A retired elementary school teacher, Peggy received degrees from Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her fascination with genealogy inspires her historical fiction. She lives with her family in Madison, Wisconsin.

Editorial Review:

Peggy Joque Williams' "Courting the Sun" is a shockingly well written historical novel – it is astounding to believe that this was the author’s debut work! Set in 17th-century France, this book shows off Williams' research and skillful storytelling. While the premise may be commonplace in the genre, the novel surpasses such expectations with its richly developed plot and engaging characters. As our poor country heroine is thrust into the luxurious world of the castle and court life, readers are taken on a thrilling journey filled with intrigue and unexpected twists.


In the time of King Louis XIV, also known as the French Sun King era, Peggy Joque Williams introduces us to Sylvienne d'Aubert. Sylvienne, a rural girl, dreams of a fairy tale life as she indulges in the tabloid gossip of the era. Despite being separated from her family and friends during her teenage years, Sylvienne is enthralled by the glamorous world of artists, courtiers, and royals, figures she had previously only encountered in literature and scandalous sheets purchased secretly in Amiens' alleys.


I know what you are up to with those books,” she said. “But it doesn’t matter. Mother says you are nothing but a foundling.” She turned up her nose and walked away, the younger girls scurrying after her.

That little—” I jumped up intending to thrash her, but MarieCatherine laid a hand on my arm.

Ignore her. She is nothing.”

Fists clenched, I sat again. “What did she mean by that, anyway? A foundling? Everyone knows who my parents are.”

Marie-Catherine shrugged. “She is mean-spirited. Don’t pay any attention. Let it go.”

But I couldn’t let it go. I vowed the next time I found myself alone with that little ferret I would give her a thumping she would not forget.


One ordinary day, Sylvienne returns home to an extraordinary sight: the King himself engaged in a deep conversation with her widowed mother. This unexpected encounter leaves Sylvienne puzzled—her mother had never shown any interest in royalty before. Suddenly, she discovers that she is related to the king, and Sylvienne is thrust into the whirlwind of court intrigue and enticed by the prospect of a glamorous life. She is summoned to court, and she begins to wonder if her fairy tale dreams are truly coming true. But amidst the luxury of the palace and the constant entertainment enjoyed by the nobility, Sylvienne discovers that many she encounters are insincere and driven solely by their pursuit of power. As secrets from her mother's past are revealed, Sylvienne has many important moments of self-discovery, realizing what truly matters in life.


At its core, this tale explores the intricacies of navigating secrets and power dynamics while staying true to oneself. Set in Louis XIV's court and the grandeur of Versailles, the story immerses readers in a world of intrigue and opulence. Sylvienne is clearly out of her depth as she hails from the countryside and finds herself thrust into the complex web of King Louis XIV's court, unprepared for its machinations. As she grapples with whom to trust and discovers her own identity, particularly in the wake of the life-altering revelation, Sylvienne's growth as a character is incredibly endearing and relatable. Her transformation throughout the story makes for a compelling read, drawing readers into her story as she navigates the challenges of court life while staying true to herself.


Williams creates a believable world that transports readers to 17th-century France, immersing them in the sights, sounds, and tastes of the era. From the picturesque countryside to the intricate details of fashion and cuisine, the author's attention to detail is remarkable. Despite the extensive historical backdrop, the narrative remains engaging and focused, thanks to the compelling characters, particularly Sylvienne d’Aubert and her mother. What sets this book apart is its ability to seamlessly blend historical fiction with a fast paced storyline, avoiding the pitfall of overwhelming readers with excessive historical exposition. Instead, readers are treated to a richly textured story that entertains while offering new insights into the period.


The balanced portrayal of fashions, customs, and settings adds much to the story without overshadowing the storyline. However, it's the compelling characters, particularly Sylvienne and her entourage, that truly drive the story forward. Sylvienne's journey from a humble country town to the opulent royal court of King Louis XIV is both engaging and believable.


At the tender age of 16, Sylvienne undergoes rapid maturation as she navigates the treacherous waters of court life, where skullduggery, illicit affairs, and the stark contrasts between the rich and poor abound.


And during all of this, Sylvienne's own clandestine romance with a commoner adds a layer of tension to the narrative, threatening to unravel the delicate fabric of her privileged existence. The way the conflict and nuances of both commoner and courtly existence are described is immersive. From the glittering salons where discussions of literature and philosophy are part of her coming-of-age experience to the ever-present dangers lurking in the shadows, Sylvienne's life is fraught with desires and dangers at every turn. As jealousy and greed rear their ugly heads, Sylvienne finds herself ensnared in a web of conspiracy and betrayal.


There were moments in the story where it was tempting to condemn Sylvienne for her actions, or lack thereof. However, it was important to remember that she was still young and inexperienced, unaware of the complexities and dangers of court life.


In this story predominantly set in the French Court, King Louis XIV's depiction seems accurate, complete with his penchant for multiple mistresses and illegitimate children, which were somewhat acceptable during that era. Despite these traits, there's a certain appeal to his character. Prince Phillippe should also be mentioned as another stand out character.


However, the focus of this book predominantly centers on the experiences of women. It's difficult to imagine the challenges they faced during that time period; even the upper classes lived within a kind of gilded cage. Marriages were often arranged for them, and their primary role was to appear beautiful and produce offspring, all without the luxury of pain relief during childbirth.


Watching him eat took my appetite away. How could someone so handsome be so callous? I lifted a hand to signal the footman to take away my plate. “There is one last thing.”


I require an allowance for shoes.”

His fork stopped in midair, the piece of pork threatening to topple. “Only for shoes?”

How stupid of me! I fought to maintain a dispassionate visage. “For an entire wardrobe, of course. Dresses, outerwear. A duchesse must not appear underdressed, especially in light of the dinners we will be hosting.”

Of course. You are right. Let me know the names of the vendors you wish to utilize, and I will set up the appropriate accounts for you.”

Merci.” I set my napkin on the table and folded my hands in my lap to wait until our dinner was over.


Sylvienne's initial fascination with palace intrigue quickly turns to disillusionment as she realizes the limited agency she has compared to her previous life as a peasant girl in Amiens, constantly badgered by the nuns. The author captures the oppressive constraints imposed on women of all social strata in a patriarchal society. The social brutality within the aristocracy carries a surprisingly modern resonance, with gossip magazines serving as the equivalent of today's tweets and memes, caricaturing nobility.


As Sylvienne comes to understand why her mother fled from life at the royal court, she becomes determined to seize control of her own future. Readers find themselves rooting for her every step of the way. This story beautifully captures the essence of young love, the importance of found family, and the challenges of political intrigue and power. As Sylvienne's life takes one expected turn after another, readers find themselves eagerly rooting for romance to prevail


The characters in the novel were impressively multifaceted. Witnessing the complexities of their lives and the challenges they face made them feel realistic. Considering the depth of emotion conveyed through the characters' experiences, it's remarkable to consider how Sylvienne managed to make her own way with such grace and resilience.


From the outset, the reader is drawn swiftly into Sylvienne's world, accompanying her on a journey that oscillates between hope and sorrow with remarkable fluidity. The prose flows effortlessly, propelling the narrative forward at a brisk pace. Peggy Joque Williams' sharp dialogue, authentic characters, and excellent descriptions of Bourbon court life engage the reader thoroughly. As the story reaches its conclusion, it feels more like a new beginning, leaving readers eagerly anticipating the next chapter of Sylvienne's adventure.


“Courting the Sun” by Peggy Joque Williams receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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1 Comment

Thank you so much for this in-depth review of my book, Courting the Sun. This is my first solo novel, and my first foray into historical fiction, and this review means everything to me. Thank you!

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