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Reviewed by Sara Drake

Once upon a time, two sisters grew up to marry kings, rulers of rival nations. This may sound like the beginning of a fairy tale but it’s actually a page from history. Sophie Perinot takes the history of these two sisters, their husbands, and their nations and spins a delightful historical novel. Taking place in thirteenth century Europe, The Sister Queens explores the themes of love and family against a backdrop of war, religion, and politics.

Louis IX of France marries the teenager Marguerite. A few years later, Henry III of England marries her sister, Eleanor. The two sisters have different personalities and their lives take them down different paths. Marguerite finds herself married to a religious zealot and mama’s boy (are you allowed to call a king a mama’s boy?). Her struggles to find a place in her husband’s heart start with a silent struggle with her mother-in-law and lead to crusading (literally) against the infidel. Meanwhile, her sister finds true love (with her husband) but faces a nobility frequently at war with their king.

I enjoyed Perinot’s well-written tale. The characters and especially the relationship between the sisters came alive. I truly enjoyed Perinot’s depiction of Marguerite’s life and environment. She gave the French court an amazing depth with her descriptions, allowing it to spring from the pages.

Unfortunately, the English court did not have that same depth and I found myself struggling to get a good feel for the dynamics there. I know that it is much easier to find detailed accounts of Louis IX then Henry III. In fact, many of the sources from the time period offer delightful details of the individual quirks at Louis IX’s court. I just found myself longing for more details of Henry III’s court and the personalities that Eleanor interacts with throughout the novel.

I had trouble following the political strife throughout The Sister Queens. Why did English barons fight with Henry III? What role did Simon de Montfort play? Why did Henry fight France? While I know the historians’ answers to these questions, I struggled to follow the motivations as presented within the novel. The real details tend to be very dry and boring and I can understand not dwelling on them. I just wanted more details in this regard to help follow the action in the book.

Despite these two issues, I found myself sucked into the story and could not put the book down.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Learn more about Sophie Perinot and The Sister Queens

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Sara Drake has been an avid reader since a young age. She has both a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and a Master’s in History.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by NAL Trade. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.