Anne Barnhill, a real trouper, is back to writing, reviewing and even making author appearances in connection with her novel, At the Mercy of the Queen, published earlier this year by St. Martin’s. She’s doing all this even while recuperating from surgery and awaiting further medical treatments. She’s my hero! Here she reviews a book with a very similar title to that in her most recent review, but it is a different book, dealing with different dead royals.
By Anne Barnhill
THE SISTER QUEENS. By Sophie Perinot. New American Library. 498 pages. $15, paperback.
Sophie Perinot’s debut novel, The Sister Queens, brings to life the story of Marguerite and her younger sister, Eleanor, daughters of Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence, and his wife, Beatrice, of Savoy. Four daughters were born to this couple, and it is the first two who are the focus of the book.
Marguerite is the elder girl, responsible, reliable, often at odds with her more demanding, rebellious sister, Eleanor. At 17, she marries the King of France, a handsome young man who immediately captures her heart. However, Louis IX is still very much attached to his mother’s apron strings, and this does not bode well for the newlyweds.
Eleanor, always eager to best her sister in everything, makes an equally good marriage to Henry III of England. Though he is older and not as good-looking as Louis, he loves Eleanor, and she comes to love him, too.
But all is not roses for these sister who are now queens. The Crusades, political intrigue, family squabbles, zealous religious faith, the danger of giving birth – all these combine to challenge the sisters as they struggle to find love, security and happiness at the pointed top of the pyramid of power.
Perinot’s writing is almost flawless, and she brings to rich life characters who lived more than 600 years ago, no small feat. Readers will enjoy the romance of the tale but also the sibling connection between the sisters. Each chapter begins with a letter from one of the sisters. Here is a small sample:
The sun is out and so should we be. Pray ask Mother to release us from our studies. She is sure to agree if you ask. You will be her “little queen,” so she indulges your every whim. I wish you yourself were a little less satisfied with the title that will soon be yours. When I wanted to write you this note, I had a difficult time finding a scrap of parchment in our room not covered with “Marguerite, by the grace of God illustrious Queen of the French” in you handwriting.
That sense of play between the sisters can become something darker as the novel progresses, which adds depth and interest to both characters. Perinot’s debut leaves me looking forward to her next book.