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Jego, Yves and Lepee, Denis - 'The Sun King Rises' (translated by Sue Dyson)
Paperback: 474 pages (Feb. 2008) Publisher: Gallic ISBN: 1906040028

THE SUN KING RISES is a historical novel written by Yves Jego, a member of the French Parliament, and Dennis Lepee, a local politician and environmental adviser, who has also written books on Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill. The book was translated from the French by Sue Dyson, who is more widely known as best selling novelist Zoe Barnes. The novel follows the events of 1661 and gives a new twist to the political machinations at the court of Louis XIV blending a fictional hero into the real events of that year.

Cardinal Mazarin, who has governed France during the early years of the King's reign, carrying on the system devised by his mentor Cardinal Richelieu, is dying. His apartments are burgled by religious zealots who steal a package containing secret encoded papers from his desk, but in escaping one of them falls through a skylight to his death on the stage, where Moliere's company are rehearsing, and drops the package of papers.

Gabriel de Pontbriand, a young actor and the fictional hero of the story, finds the package and when he examines the papers notices his father's signature on one of them. Coincidentally Gabriel's childhood friend the beautiful Louise de la Valliere had recently arrived at court to act as companion to Henrietta of England who is to marry the King's brother. The complex court relationships, intrigues and power battles between Colbert, Mazarin's secretary, and Nicholas Fouquet who is building the magnificent Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte dominate much of the rest of the book. The rivals Colbert and Fouquet both wish to assume the mantle and power of Mazarin but Louis XIV has other plans as he wants to rule as an absolute monarch.

Some of the encoded papers refer to the close relationship between Mazarin and Anne of Austria, the King's mother, and others are ancient documents that may change the course of history. Gabriel has to struggle to find the secret contained in the papers, survive the various conspiracies at court, and possibly win the love of Louise.

The book appeared in France under the title 1661 and from the information on the website it is clear the book has aroused a lot of interest. The authors state that they were trying to create a historical novel in the style of Alexandre Dumas or Robert Louis Stevenson (I apologise if with my French O level circa 1959 I have got this wrong). I read many years ago a number of the Dumas novels, including the D'Artagnan books that started with THE THREE MUSKETEERS and went on to TWENTY YEARS AFTER, a marvellous sequel, and VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE. Perhaps this is why I was very disappointed and found this novel rather predictable and boring, with the briefest periods of action separated by long sections of dull material. Neither the word portraits of the characters nor the plot were anywhere near the standard of Alexandre Dumas. They also bizarrely decided to latch on to the "Da Vinci-Dan Brown" band wagon with a plot line about an ancient biblical gospel and an exclusive group holding the key to the encoded secret.

This could have been such a good book but I am afraid that although interesting to anyone who wants to learn a little bit about this fascinating time in French history it lacked the sparkle, momentum and inventiveness of a Dumas novel. I don't think this story works because it is very difficult to blend fictional characters and events with real life characters and events in a novel in a seamless fashion. I prefer the real life component to be used only as a foundation for the fictional story, as Dumas does so brilliantly in TWENTY YEARS AFTER, a tale of intrigue based on the period of the Fronde rebellion in France and Civil War and regicide in England. Unfortunately in the case of THE SUN KING RISES it feels as if the fictional characters and storyline have just been tacked on as an afterthought.

Norman Price, England
August 2008

Norman blogs at
Crime Scraps.

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 10/08/2008 11:59