Mistress of the Sun: suggestions for discussion

1. Why did young Petite turn to bone magic to tame Diablo? Did she understand the ramifications of her actions? As an adult, did Petite regret this decision?

2. “The Devil gives nothing away for free” (page 13). In what ways did Petite pay for using the Devil’s power? Is the use of “evil” for a “good cause” ever justified?

3. Many “ghosts” appear throughout the novel, usually in dreams, including the Lady in White, Diablo, and Petite’s father, Laurent. Discuss their significance and their effect on Petite. What is it that haunts her?

4. “It felt strange for her mother to be touching her” (page 85). Discuss the relationship between Petite and her mother, Françoise, both as a child and an adult. How does it compare with her feelings for her aunt, Sister Angélique?

5. “Was it possible that nobility of the heart had little to do with high birth?” (page 123). What does Petite mean by “nobility of the heart”? Whom do you find noble? Petite? Her father, Laurent? Louis? Abbé Patin?

6. When Jean takes his sister on a tour of Paris for the first time, they climb to the top of Notre Dame, at which point she notes: “It seemed a monstrous and unnatural thing to see the world from such a height” (page 170). What does Petite mean by this statement? Is it foreshadowing?

7. What does Diablo mean to Petite?

8. Marie-Anne says her father confided in her that her mother was the only woman who ever loved him. Did he return Petite’s love? How did his feelings change over time — and why?

9. When Louis first meets Petite, he’s reminded of Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt. And Louis is referred to as the Sun God Apollo. Are these comparisons accurate? Why does Sandra Gulland invoke Roman and Greek mythology?

10. Early on in their relationship Athénaïs alerts Petite that “A woman of Court…will do anything to get…[the King’s] friendship” (page 267). Was there evidence of Athénaïs’s true intentions all along? Did her behavior surprise you? Did she ever love either Louis or Petite?

11. Part IV is titled “Mislove.” What does this term mean? Does it accurately reflect Petite’s relationship with the King?

12. Petite is frequently warned that at Court, “nothing is as it seems” (page 298). Discuss this as an overall theme in the novel. Is there anyone who doesn’t wear a mask? Consider the people Petite confides in: Nicole, Clorine, Athénaïs, Abbé Patin, Gautier. Who can Petite trust?

13. One of Petite’s ancestors rode alongside Joan of Ark. Why does the author include this back story? Do you see any similarities between the two women?

14. Petite confides in Gautier that she doesn’t see her relationship with Louis as a sacrifice (page 321). Does she truly believe this? Ultimately, what, if anything, does Petite sacrifice for Louis’s sake? Does she comply out of love or loyalty to the Crown?

15. God is Petite’s “best friend” (page 323), and yet the Devil is always lurking. Which influences Petite most — her love of God or her fear of the Devil?

16. Knowing the outrage it will cause, why does the King publicly acknowledge Petite’s children as his own? How does the new title “Duchess” affect Petite, if at all?

17. “Diablo was stubborn, but she was stubborn too” (page 513). What other characteristics do Petite and Diablo share? In the end, are they both free?

18. What does Versailles (“Versaie” in the novel) mean to Petite and Louis at first, and what does it become? Do the changes reflect a change in their relationship?

19. How was “magic” used at that time? Why was its use prevalent? In what ways are such things used today — and why?

20. “[It seemed] they were all of them ensnared,” Petite reflects (page 122). What choices did women have in that era? What other choices might Petite have made?

Enhance Your Bookclub

Assign people to research different aspects of France during King Louis XIV’s reign. One person can learn about politics, another can look into costumes, religion, witchcraft, etc. Then share what you discovered with the group.

To see a different perspective of France during this era, watch the 1998 film The Man in the Iron Mask. How does the film portray King Louis and others compared to Mistress of the Sun?