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One is patient, reserved, compliant, and a diplomat. The other is headstrong, outspoken, and obstinate. And yet both are beautiful women destined to become queens of France and England. In Sophie Perinot’s debut novel, The Sister Queens, readers are introduced to Marguerite and Eleanor, daughters of the Count of Provence. Despite their relatively obscure social standing, Marguerite becomes the wife of King Louis IX of France, while Eleanor becomes the wife of King Henry III of England. Even though they are sisters, the women have different temperaments and quite different experiences when it comes to being a wife and a queen. Marguerite marries a young, dashing king dominated by his overbearing mother. Despite Marguerite’s great hopes of a close and loving union, Louis transforms into a religious zealot, neglecting his wife, children, and even his kingdom in favor of grandiose religious pursuits. Eleanor marries a man more than 10 years older and substantially shorter in stature than herself, but she finds herself the wife of a loving and devoted man who is better at being a family man than being the King of England. Eleanor’s marriage is a happy one, but it is often marred by her husband’s frequent political and military failures. During their reigns, each woman must navigate war, love, political turmoil, childbirth, illness, and the pursuit of their own happiness, always leaning on each other for support despite the miles and differences that separate them.
Perinot tells their stories by combining two first-person accounts, interspersed with letters between the sisters. The result is a captivating account of the lives of two beautiful and powerful 13th century queens. Their bond of sisterhood unites unlikely allies, bringing about remarkable political change over the course of their lifetimes. Well written and meticulously researched, this is a fascinating look at the lasting influences these women had on kings, countries, and history. For those interested in European history, this is a must read!