Way back in May, I did a Top Ten Tuesday post that talked about some of the things I wanted to see more of in Christian fiction. (You can read that post here.) Number three on that list was non-US historical fiction, particularly European historical fiction, which is one of the reasons I’m excited to introduce you to my guest today. You could say he’s making my wish come true, because the book we’re discussing today is set in 17th Century France!
~ About the Author ~
JP Robinson is an award-winning author who lives with his wife and three children in Pennsylvania, USA. He began writing as a teen for the Times Beacon Records newspaper in New York. He holds a degree in English Language & Literacy and is a state-certified teacher of French history. He loves writing vivid, high-adrenaline plots laced with unexpected twists.
Born to praying parents who were told by medical doctors that having children was impossible, JP Robinson’s life has been filled with experiences that prove the power of God. Now he writes to share that power with his readers.
~ About the Book ~
Angélique, a sheltered young woman, gives birth to twins, Antoine and Hugo, who, though born at the same time, have been fathered by two different men. Twenty-five years later the twins both fall in love with the same woman and the brewing rivalry between them reaches the breaking point.
Antoine, a successful captain of the French army but a man estranged from God, is accused of disloyalty to the state religion by his jealous brother, Cardinal Hugo. He is given a royal ultimatum to prove his loyalty: either betray the woman he loves or see his mother killed and family lands confiscated to the crown.
Meanwhile, Hugo weaves plans of his own which threaten to bring the monarchy of France to its knees, little suspecting the cataclysmic forces his actions will unleash. Rich in scriptural allegory and explosive action, Twiceborn is an epic drama of love, redemption and the power of God.
~ Interview ~
KATIE: Thanks for joining me on my blog today, JP!
JP: Thank you for the opportunity to share with you. I always enjoy connecting with readers and other authors.
Let’s take a little ‘flight of fancy’ to begin with. How would you finish these sentences?
If I could visit any place in the world, I would visit…
For years, my dream destination has been Wales in the United Kingdom. This small corner of the world has captured my imagination since childhood. Its deep forests, rugged coastlines and, of course, sheep all contribute the magic that makes Wales unique. I once read a book which insinuated that the real Robin Hood was actually one of the Cymry—the ancient people who lived in Wales. Since Robin was one of my childhood heroes, Wales became—and remains—on the top of my “to-be-visited” list.
I have also heard that as a possible explanation as to who the real Robin Hood was, but regardless, I have to say that the Welsh countryside is just gorgeous.
If I was an animal I would be a…
A lion would be my animal of choice. I’m a Leo; I love the courage of the lion and respect its protective strength. I’ve had a lot of hard times in life. The lion has always been a sort of inspiration to me.
Oh, yes! My opinion of lions can’t help but be coloured by Aslan. I love Mr Beaver’s response when Susan asks if he’s safe:
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
But I digress… 😊
My ideal place to read would be…
Nestled in the branches of a swaying thirty-foot tall tree. This actually is more of a memory than a wish. As a kid I loved to read. I also loved the outdoors, particularly trees and forests. I remember that we had a twenty or thirty foot pine tree in the back of our house. I would stick a book in my back pocket and climb up as high as I could go. Then I’d curl up in the branches, pull the book out and get lost in the story as the wind transformed my perch into a gently-swaying hammock. It’s odd but the thought of falling or getting hurt rarely occurred to me, if ever. That’s the bliss of being a child, I guess!
Lol! Yes, it is! And the anxiety of being a parent! But there’s something about climbing trees and childhood that goes together, isn’t there? And that sounds like an idyllic reading place.
So, let’s get down to the real reason you’re here today. You’ve just released a novel, Twiceborn, which is set in 17th Century France. Can you give us a little bit of background as to what was happening at this time in history?
Great question. Our story is set under the reign of Louis XIV, an absolute ruler who had won a rebellion against the nobles of France when he was about ten years old. After that experience, Louis never fully trusted anyone again. To combat the intrigue that flourished when his nobles were far away, he transformed an old hunting lodge called Versailles into an elaborate, gilded prison where he housed as many as 10,000 people, including France’s nobility.
Unfortunately for Louis, the struggle for power did not end, as France was a divided nation in many ways. The king’s loose morality set the tone for a life of sexual and materialistic extravagance at court, while his hatred for the Protestants—particularly a group called the Jansenists—influenced many of his political decisions.
In Twiceborn I have captured both the splendor and the scheming that was rife at Versailles. Louis is about to make war on the Dutch, whom he views as obstacles to the greater glory of France.
Adding to the drama is Louis’s growing animosity towards Pope Clement XI who has urged Louis to send French troops abroad in a fight against a growing Muslim empire across the Mediterranean Sea. Louis dreams of a French empire and is infuriated by Rome’s desire to control France. His solution? Put a French pope on the throne in Rome. It is with this devious plot in mind that he turns to a young cardinal with high ambitions: Hugo de Limoges.
At Versailles, every man and woman has an agenda and the result is an explosive outcome that you’ll never see coming.
Oh, wow! I can’t wait to read this. I have been to Versailles, too, and I have to say, it’s not an experience you forget in a hurry. The opulence is staggering.
You’re actually a certified teacher of French History. What is it about French history that appeals to you?
I’m a lover of history on a whole but I think it’s the drama that pulls me to France. Outside of British history I think that there are very few cultures who have as much intrigue, betrayal and emotionally charged elements to their history as the French. It’s a civilization that started over 2,000 years ago under very difficult circumstances. Difficulty will either crush you or make you great. In either case, there’s a powerful story to tell.
I love that—”Difficulty will either crush you or make you great.” So true. And yes, the drama!
In Twiceborn, the male lead characters are twins, but they have different fathers. Where did the idea come from for this, and is this something that can actually happen?
I’m no expert on biology and it is rare but has happened several times in modern history. The Huffington Post carried an article on the subject in 2014 which is available here.
That’s a fascinating article—especially as I’m a mother of fraternal twins myself (although definitely from the one father!) I must admit I questioned the plausibility when I first read the book description, but once I stopped to think about it, I could see how it would be possible, if extremely rare.
So, could you tell us a little about these twins, Antoine and Hugo?
Antoine and Hugo are polar opposites. They’re both successful men but receive different levels of affection from the man they both call father. Antoine rises to command the king’s personal guard. He distinguishes himself on the battlefield and is a fearless soldier who can be a bit reckless but has a good heart.
Hugo is the cold, calculating twin whose desire to be loved drives him to do the unthinkable. He finds his solace in the church and ultimately becomes the king and queen’s personal confessor, which is a position of extreme power. Between the two, it is Hugo who actually captures a lot of my sympathy. He’s the villain, yes, but as you read the story you can actually almost see him as the victim.
The rivalry between the twins becomes so intense that in the first chapter, Antoine risks his life just to outshine Hugo. Both brothers are complex, but from the beginning to the end, those complexities drive the story in a way that will hold you captive until you close the book and release the pent-up breath you’ve been holding for the past forty-two chapters!
Could you tell us a little bit about the female lead characters, Skyla and Hortense?
Absolutely. Spiritually strong and fiercely independent, Skyla van Berkij is a Dutch Protestant who is intimately acquainted with the heartbreaking pangs of suffering. She’s an incredible young role model. Many of the Dutch were caught between competing European powers as they battled for control of the Netherlands. Skyla is a peasant who has lost everyone she loves in the last war when King Louis’s men fought against the Spanish and their allies for control of her home country.
Betrayed by her first love, Skyla resolves never to marry and seeks to find contentment in her faith, but her commitment is pushed to the breaking point when a stranger from her past offers more than she could have ever imagined.
Hortense is the only survivor of a family of seven, and she has learned to wield her beauty like a weapon. After working her way from the streets of Rheims to the palace of Versailles, she will let nothing stop her from achieving the ultimate prize.
Her destiny, however, is intertwined with a priest who desires much more than her piety—the Cardinal Hugo de Limoges. The fate of a kingdom hangs in the balance and Hortense is ready to tip the scales.
There is also another female character who plays a critical role in the epic drama that’s unfolding at Versailles: the queen Marie-Thérèse. She’s a very pious woman who has been betrayed by her husband more times than she can count and, after each betrayal, she forgives him. But when her lady-in-waiting, Hortense, becomes Louis’s latest conquest, Marie-Thérèse finally goes on the warpath and weaves a web of her own.
What was your general inspiration for this story, and is it based on any actual historical events?
Twiceborn is definitely based on history, but is also allegorical in that it meshes several Biblical stories with the culture, history and romance of 17th century France. It is based on a series of historical events, and I’ve put at least a hundred hours into the research to verify my facts. Details such as tracking down family lines, battle sites, weapons, fashions and relationships all work to recreate an authentic and entertaining depiction of an incredibly moving story. If I had to estimate, I’d say that about 80% of the story is historically accurate and 20% of it is fiction, excluding of course the main fictitious characters Antoine, Skyla, Hugo and Hortense.
Excellent! I love getting real history in my historical fiction!
What was the most challenging part of writing this novel?
Honestly this story was the easiest plot I’ve ever come up with. I felt like the story was just hammering at my heart, begging to escape! The most intense part was the research however. It took a lot of time.
Based on my own experience as a history lover, I could imagine the research taking on a life of its own—and getting sidetracked by it!
What do you hope readers take away from this novel?
1. I’d like readers to have a greater appreciation for the power of faith and truly accept that Christ never changes.
2. I want them to see a clear difference between what I call “churchianity” and Christianity. Twiceborn is a play on words. It refers to the twins, whose birth sets the stage for the rest of the story, but also to a second, spiritual birth (referred to in John 3). Most of the major players in Twiceborn are religious in one sense or another but their unique challenges bring out different responses.
Temptation, ambition, fear and more are aspects of life that we all deal with every day. Twiceborn subtly shows us how we can live victoriously despite the darkness that threatens our world.
3. I want the readers to enjoy a great story. 🙂 I hope that the gripping plot and the lush details will whisk you away from your couch and plunge you into the very throne room of King Louis’s court at Versailles where every glance has a meaning and every whisper contains a secret.
You sure know how to whet a reader’s appetite!
Lastly, what’s up next in the Secrets of Versailles series?
BrideTree, the second instalment of Secrets of Versailles, will be published in Fall 2018. All email subscribers will get a free excerpt in their inbox around January of next year. If you haven’t signed up a www.jprobinsonbooks.com be sure to do so.
Honestly, I really enjoyed writing Twiceborn but I loved writing BrideTree. It’s set at the time of the French Revolution (1789) and has a totally different feel. Here’s a sneak peak at what’s in store.
18th century France is reeling under the impact of a civil war between the classes, but the turmoil on the streets is eclipsed by the layers of intrigue that surround King Louis XVI’s court at Versailles.
When a secret agent from Rome joins forces with a vindictive politician, intent on overthrowing the government of France, the stage is set for an explosive outcome more devastating than anyone could have foreseen. In the midst of the chaos, one young woman finds herself torn between a noble who has sacrificed everything for her and a peasant who promises true freedom.
BrideTree is a romantic historical thriller that will grab you by the heart and never let go.
Thank you so much for joining me today, JP.
You can get a free chapter of Twiceborn by signing up to JP’s mailing list here. (You’ll need to scroll to the bottom of the link.)
There is also a giveaway for Twiceborn running on Goodreads until 28 October, so don’t forget to go over there and enter for a chance to win one of two copies! Click here to go to the giveaway page.
Before you go, leave a comment and let us know what piques your interest in this book. Do you enjoy French history? Do you enjoy drama and intrigue?