The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot
Published by NAL Trade, an imprint of Penguin
As girls, Eleanor and Marguerite are nearly inseparable, although much of their togetherness includes competition – particularly on Eleanor’s part as she attempts to keep up with her lovely and mild older sister. Unfortunately for Eleanor and Marguerite, fate does not allow for them to be together forever; as the daughters of the Duke of Provence and members of the de Savoy family on their mother’s side, the sisters are fated to make grand marriages. In fact, Marguerite will be the Queen of France and Eleanor Queen of England. Although equal in status, the sisters’ marriages are vastly unequal. Louis IX, King of France is a vastly superior king as compared to England’s Henry III, but Henry cares deeply for Eleanor, while Louis all but ignores Marguerite. Although separated by the English Channel and antagonistic countries, the sisters do have one another’s hearts and letters to guide them through the perils of queenship.
Marguerite, Eleanor, and their two younger sisters have fascinating stories, all four actually became queens. Sanchia of Provence became Queen of Germany and Beatrice Queen of Sicily. Perinot has chosen to focus on the first half of Marguerite and Eleanor’s reigns as queens of France and England, however, before their sisters ascended to their thrones as well. The Sister Queens is a solid work of historical fiction. Both Eleanor and Marguerite are well-developed characters, which is impressive, since they share narration of the book. Even more impressive is the way Perinot causes the reader to favor and commiserate with first one sister and then the other as they take turns relating their stories, it is easy to see both sides of the personal and political issues at stake.
The settings could perhaps have been explored in greater detail, but to fully describe the political situations of both countries would have seriously inflated the page count and possibly bogged down the story Perinot is telling. In addition, while the letters between the women sometimes seemed slightly over-expository, they did serve to get much of the exposition out of the way so that the majority of the story could be focused on the characters and not on the intervening events.
All in all, a satisfying read about a time period and family about which comparatively little is written. Recommended.
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