Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Sun King

Golden Keyes Parsons delves into the religious intolerance of 17th-century France in her first novel, In the Shadow of the Sun King, which is part of a planned series.

French Protestants, or Huguenots, are persecuted, imprisoned, and put to death when they refuse to convert to Catholicism, by order of King Louis XVI, the Sun King. When the King's dragoons fall upon the Clavell's countryside estate, Madeline - the young, naive mother of the Clavells - rushes off to Versailles, in the hopes of appealing to the King, her former lover, to save her family.

The beginning of this Christian historical fiction novel struggles along as the characters face false dilemmas, such as when the Uncle despairs at having lost a matchbox, only to find it seconds later. The overall story, while one about religion, is also burdened by the Clavell family's overwhelming, and never faltering, faith in God. They never doubt the presence of God's hand in their lives, despite their house being burnt to the ground, despite Francois spending years in the galleys of a ship, and despite their youngest daughter being torn away from them to be re-educated in a convent.

At the same time, these obstacles still make for a fast-paced story full of careful, historical research that shines through on every page. Unfortunately, all these obstacles are resolved much too easily - especially given how many tragedies the family faced from the beginning - and their happy endings are explained away by the Clavell's utter devotion to God and Protestantism. The happy endings, in such a tumultous and intolerant age, just didn't seem realistic. Yes, the novel is about religious intolerance, but the history and background of that intolerance never got more than a few sentences here and there. Perhaps this wouldn't have been so bothersome had the characters, their thoughts, and even their faith, been fleshed out more than they were.

Overall, In the Shadow of the Sun King provides an intriguing historically accurate tale, sparked by Parsons' own family history, that is an enjoyable read even though it leaves the reader wanting in regards to understanding the characters and their motivations. Anyone interested in 17th-century France, and the persecution that many faced, should give this book a try.

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