"My mother liked to boast that her numerous daughters were 'sacrifices to politics.'"
The apt opening line from Becoming Marie Antoinette, the first n...more"My mother liked to boast that her numerous daughters were 'sacrifices to politics.'"
The apt opening line from Becoming Marie Antoinette, the first novel in Juliet Grey's Marie Antoinette trilogy, is made all the more compelling by the final entry in the trilogy: Confessions of Marie Antoinette.
The last novel in the trilogy begins in the midst of the "October Days," when a large mob comprised mainly of Parisian women marched on the palace of Versailles. Their attack on the palace ultimately led to the claiming of the royal family, who were taken back to Paris in triumph. It ends, of course, where Marie Antoinette herself ended--on the guillotine. In between, the profound losses and increasing danger experienced by Marie Antoinette, her family and her loved ones are compounded by the increasingly complicated and politically shifting Revolution.
Readers may be surprised that Confessions of Marie Antoinette tells not just the last chapter in the story of the titular queen, but also the story of a young woman named Louison Chabry. Louison, based on a real woman living in Paris during the revolution, introduces a different perspective on the unfolding revolution while also allowing for a more complete narrative. Louison, for example, is able to witness events that Marie Antoinette would not have witnessed--but without them, readers may feel lost or confused about the resulting behaviors or actions taken by Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and other characters in the book. While I didn't feel as connected to Louison due to her late introduction in the trilogy, I did appreciate that her story allowed for a fuller depiction of events in the narrative.
Of course, the primary challenge of presenting the life story of any historical figure, much less a figure like Marie Antoinette, is being able to craft a narrative that not only covers an expansive number of years, but is able to be both fictionally compelling and historically sound. With the trilogy format, however, Juliet Grey has allowed herself to create a much more detailed picture of her life that allows for the inclusion of more characters, more incidents based on real life events, and a deeper picture of the "character" of Marie Antoinette herself. Grey's narrative particularly shines when it submerges itself in the human emotion of events--the depiction of the mob invasion of the Tuileries Palace, where Marie Antoinette and her family were threatened and insulted, is of particular note.
The development of Marie Antoinette's character throughout the trilogy is most apparent in this final work, where we finally see the emergence of Marie Antoinette's courage, intelligence, determination--and even desperation--as she and her family attempt to navigate their way through the revolution. Another aspect of Marie Antoinette's character which emerges are her realizations about her life, her loves, her triumphs and her mistakes. The last portion of the book, which covers the queen's unfortunate ride to the guillotine and contains some symbolism which readers of the first novels will likely take note of, is especially moving. (Be sure to read with a tissue box at hand!)
Confessions of Marie Antoinette is a solid finale to the trilogy which shines the most in its emotional and human portrayal of Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI and their family. Out of every component in the trilogy and the last novel, I was most impressed with the creation of a three-dimensional, human character out of both Marie Antoinette and, most tellingly, Louis XVI, who is often reduced to caricature but is here presented as a flesh and blood human being. Historical fiction readers and readers interested in Marie Antoinette will likely appreciate this detailed, emotional and human look at her story.
[A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher at my request.]
How can a queen, once young and beloved, become a prime target for hatred? Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey is, at its core, an exploration of how a young and fairly popular Marie Antoinette became such a detested figure in French public opinion.
Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is the highly anticipated second novel in author Juliet Grey’s Marie Antoinette trilogy, which will span from her life as a young archduchess until her tragic end in the midst of the French Revolution. One question that seemed to be a common thread among many reviews of the first novel was “Does this really need to be a trilogy?” The question is usually followed up by the correct but blunt statement: “We know how it ends.” While the statement is true, I am personally glad that the story is told in trilogy format because the reader is treated to a much more fleshed out characterization of Marie Antoinette than is possible in most single novels. Like the first novel, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is written in first person from the POV of Marie Antoinette and is supplemented by various contemporary quotations and letters, although Grey has rewritten or reorganized some letters to improve the narrative flow of the novel.
It’s obvious that Grey has done her research on Marie Antoinette’s life and world. Most of the major events in the 1774-1789 time period are included or touched upon and other minor events are also included as well. I didn’t always agree with her conclusions about some of the mysteries and controversies regarding Marie Antoinette and her husband, but nothing sticks out as being unrealistically portrayed within the novel. I do want to bring up something that I’m sure many readers are curious about. In case it wasn’t obvious by the novel description, Grey has chosen to depict Axel Fersen and Marie Antoinette becoming lovers, both emotionally and physically. Unlike most fictional novels which include the “Axel Fersen affair,” Grey actually explored the impact that having a physical affair would have had on Marie Antoinette’s psyche—notably, guilt, shame and religious distress. I’ve read a few novels that include the “Axel Fersen affair” which include a mention here and there of Marie Antoinette feeling guilty, but Grey was the first to actually consider that such an affair would have had a tremendous impact on her in many ways. So, while I’m not wild about the Axel Fersen affair in general, I was (and am) very impressed with how Grey chose to handle it. I think that readers, regardless of their opinion about the affair, will be satisfied with how it’s portrayed in the novel.
As I said, most of the major players and events in Marie Antoinette’s life during this time period are explored in the novel. Marie Antoinette’s voice is generally engaging throughout the 15-year narrative, though I feel like the increased time span of this novel (which is almost double that of Becoming Marie Antoinette) required more room for exposition and less room for the more interesting character interactions that were present in the first novel. Something that did bring me out of the narrative a little was the occasional jump from Marie Antoinette’s first person to third person, which happened a few times in regards to the infamous Affair of the Necklace scandal. It was a little confusing because the first novel, as far as I remember, used Marie Antoinette’s POV and letters exclusively, and so the inclusion of third person outside of Marie Antoinette’s view was a bit jarring. Aside from those few moments, the narrative was overall solid and once again Grey excels at descriptions of fashion and location—Marie Antoinette’s sumptuous Rose Bertin gowns come alive on the page, and the descriptions of the Petit Trianon place the reader among the greenery—and there are, of course, still plenty of interesting interactions between Marie Antoinette, her husband, her friends and other Versailles characters.
Overall, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey is a solid entry in her Marie Antoinette trilogy and I recommend it for fans of the first book or readers interested in a newer fictional take on Marie Antoinette's life. While the narrative does occasionally suffer from having to cover a time span of 15 years, the book still provides readers with an interesting look into Marie Antoinette as she goes from beloved young queen to hectic gambler to a more mature and yet detested figure in the eyes of the French people. The book is available in paperback or e-book format. The third and final novel in the trilogy, The Last October Sky, is due for release in 2013.
The Secret Diary of a Princess by Melanie Clegg is the fictional diary of Marie Antoinette which covers her earlier years as a young archduchess. Other fictional diaries and memoirs written from the point-of-view of Marie Antoinette tend to focus on her life and downfall as queen of France, or her life as dauphine, this novel focuses almost exclusively on her years in Austria and ends just as she is being wedded to Louis-Auguste in the chapel of Versailles.
Secret Diary has been available on Amazon.com as an ebook for some time now but I had been unable to read it because my e-reader is not compatible with the Kindle format. Melanie Clegg was kind enough to provide me with the book in the correct format and I was very excited to get started on reading! The book is aimed at younger readers but older readers such as myself will have no problem getting sucked into the detailed world of young Marie Antoinette's Austria. The book is clearly researched but not stuffed with detail--there is enough creative license to make things interesting but not so much that the reader feels like they are reading about someone other than Marie Antoinette. The "just right" amount of detail makes it an ideal book both for those who have a previous interest in Marie Antoinette (and will likely enjoy the little details) and those who have never read about her life before, who will benefit from the research that gives the setting and characters a solid background.
I felt that the novel's focus almost entirely on her youth in Austria was a fresh take on her story. Many authors are eager to get Marie Antoinette out of Austria and into the more glittering French court, but I found it refreshing to spend more time with her as a young child. I feel like this early stage in her life is sometimes ignored because it's not as fanciful or decadent as Versailles, but because Marie Antoinette was always strongly tied to her childhood roots, I feel it's a time period that should be given more focus.
The novel is written in diary format, which is used effectively to portray Marie Antoinette's growth throughout the story. She begins as a rather silly girl who is the "most unimportant" of Maria Theresa's daughters but ultimately grows into a young woman of 14 who is not only lavished with attention but given one of the most signifcant roles for a woman in Europe at the time--that of the future Queen of France. Clegg is working on a sequel which I am excited for as I am interested in seeing where she will take Marie Antoinette from here.
I definitely recommend The Secret Diary of a Princess by Melanie Clegg for readers who are interested in Marie Antoinette and are looking for a Marie Antoinette book that is a different take on her life. The book is currently available on Amazon.com as a Kindle book. (less)
I can still remember when Becoming Marie Antoinette first popped up on Amazon.com search results, with no cover, no...more*This review is for an ARE edition*
I can still remember when Becoming Marie Antoinette first popped up on Amazon.com search results, with no cover, no summary, and nothing but the title and the author. Then, as more details emerged, it was revealed to be the first in an upcoming trilogy about the (in)famous French queen. The cover was revealed, a book trailer released, and now the AREs are making the rounds. I received my copy in the mail with a mixture of excitement and, to be honest, nervousness! Because Marie Antoinette is probably my deepest historical interest, I'm always antsy when reading a new book about her, especially a novel.
Before beginning to read, I decided that I wanted to get through 50 pages a day and finish the book in little over a week. The book arrived on June 17th - and I couldn't help but eat up the entire novel as swiftly as I could manage, and finished it on June 20th!
The length of this book allows for a much greater development of character than, in my opinion, any previous novel about the queen. In a typical Marie Antoinette narrative, she's in Versailles by page 20 - it's close to 200 pages before Marie Antoinette steps foot on French soil, and the connection to her character is all the stronger for it. The story enjoys a slower pace but a much better sense of personality, setting, and overall story. It feels like a historical fiction novel, not a biography with some dialogue and flowery phrases tacked on.
I've heard Becoming Marie Antoinette described as a 'confection' of a novel, and the term is a pretty apt description for Juliet Grey's writing. The colorful descriptions of faces, palaces, dresses, and odors both pleasant and horrid are vivid and imaginative, without sounding like the same tired cliches commonly found in historical fiction.
Speaking of historical fiction... those of us who tend to (and I'll admit I'm terribly guilty of this) nitpick novels that involve history we are interested in will be excited to know that the novel is well researched without coming across as "stuffy" or too biographical. Any changes or tweaks on history are done for the smoothness of the narrative, and nothing that really detracts from the characters of Marie Antoinette or her family.
To sum up, I loved this book. It's uncommon that I will literally say: "I am loving this book" when I take a break during a book, but it's what I found myself saying over and over! If the rest of the trilogy lives up to this first installment, I think Juliet Grey's "Marie Antoinette" trilogy will be a treasured set on many bookshelves. (less)
Neither wonderful or terrible - a product of the times! Though Sinclair's depiction of Louis XVI as an unloving father was peculiar, even for the typi...moreNeither wonderful or terrible - a product of the times! Though Sinclair's depiction of Louis XVI as an unloving father was peculiar, even for the typical depiction of the royal couple during the early/mid 1900s! (less)
**spoiler alert** I'd say this is more 3 1/2 stars.
Fear No More is a fictional novel from the 3rd person limited perspective of Louis Charles, the you...more**spoiler alert** I'd say this is more 3 1/2 stars.
Fear No More is a fictional novel from the 3rd person limited perspective of Louis Charles, the young son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It begins with the death of his brother and the Estates General and continues through the royal family's eventual imprisonment in the Temple. There, he is separated from his mother, re-educated as a "patriot," and eventually succumbs to sickness. In between is partially history, and partially what the author invented for their own explanation of the events and his death. All of it is seen through the childlish perspective of the young boy.
The novel's best point is the writing. It was very well done. It's easy to forget that he was only about four years old when he became dauphin, not yet five when his family was forced to the Tuileries, and his entire world was spun around. It was sometimes frustrating to read, because a child's true perspective (and not the "Grown up child" perspective we tend to see in novel's aimed at children) is frustrating! There are things that are confused or wrong or selfish, from a child's point of view. But that's how children are.
It also makes use of the difference between a child's perspective and reality. For example, Louis' time with the Simons, through his eyes, is almost fun - he dances and drinks and makes everyone laugh when he swears. He says he likes that, instead of being with his mother and aunt who are always crying, and his sister who acts more and more like an adult. But when he's removed from the Simon's care, his next caretakers point out that he's dirty, his clothing is ragged and tight, he's pale and sick, and is infested with fleas.
Historically - it's hit and miss. There's some things that I suppose are nit-picky - people mixed around, given different occupations, the known timeline was occasionally off, etc. Things that would stick out if you've read about the French Revolution (more focused on the royal family) but that didn't amount to much aside from "Hey wait--"
Many things, of course, must be invented for historical fiction and that's not a problem as long as it's written plausibly.
The greatest departure from history was the author's decision to invent a groomsmen for Louis Charles named Colin, who had once been doted on by Marie Antoinette but now works mainly in the stables. Colin was inspired by Armand, a boy Marie Antoinette actually did adopt, who turned revolutionary in his later years.
In this novel, Colin is not just an anti-monarchist who violently assists the revolution... he sexually abuses Louis Charles for years. It was only a few pages into the book when the sexual abuse began, so Louis Charles would have been about four. It continues throughout the novel, to the point where Colin encourages Louis Charles to imitate the act alone, which he does. This eventually leads to the Simon family discovering him "in the act," and later using that discovery to have him accuse his mother of sexual abuse.
Early on it was clear that the author intended Colin's abuse to be the eventual cause of Louis Charles' accusations against his mother and aunt. It's not written poorly. The way Louis Charles reacts to the situation seem very realistic to me, for such a young boy. The eventual accusation isn't written as a cop-out but with a crescendo of lies and stories, to avoid possible beatings and have people be pleased with him again. Realistic, but fictional. So, what to think? Personally, I wish the author had left out the fictional sexual abuse and worked more with what we do know.
Looking back on the book, I think there is too much of Colin and the fictional abuse. I would've liked to see so much more about the people actually in Louis Charles' life. The corruption would've been infinitely more effective if the author had explored his abuse within what we do know historically rather than inventing a character to sexually abuse him. To me, it took out a lot of emotional punch when his suffering and thoughts kept returning to Colin instead of his real family or even jailors, people that he knew.
My dilemma is that, even if I disagree with their choice to invent all this, it's really not written poorly. It would be easy to brush this book aside as tripe if it weren't written well, so I can't completely dislike the book! It just left me wishing that the author hadn't taken that route, because I would've loved the book completely had it not been for what I think was an unnecessary addition.
With that said... I would recommend this novel purely because of the excellent perspective, with the caveat about the sexual abuse. (To note: It's never graphic or lewd, it's pretty vague except for the first scene - but it is brought up pretty frequently.) (less)
The Princess in the Tower is the fictional memoir of Marie Therese Charlotte, the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. It begins in the late 17...moreThe Princess in the Tower is the fictional memoir of Marie Therese Charlotte, the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. It begins in the late 1780s as the French Revolution stirs around Marie Therese and her younger brother, though they are relatively unaware of what is really going on outside the protected walls around them. As the royal family is taken to Paris and slowly stripped of everything they had ever known, eventually being imprisoned in Temple, she endures humiliated, separation, and the eventual deaths of most of her family.
Despite the descriptions saying that this book is in the style of The Royal Diaries and Dear America books, it is not in that familiar diary format. It is instead like a long memoir, without diary entries.
I was initially disappointed that the book was not diary style as the descriptions led me to believe, but it faded quickly. The memoir is interesting, detailed generally without sounding like a textbook, and fairly emotional. There are a few preachy entries, particularly near the end, which I found out of place in her memoir.
For us sticklers about history, the book did raise a few eyebrows with me! The biggest was the omission of any mention of Marie Antoinette's second child, Louis Joseph. He died in July 1789, the same month as the diary begins! Yet there is not a single mention of him throughout the memoir. I overlooked several other historical inaccuracies that might have just complicated the plot too much for younger readers, but this one digs at me.
Aside from that major omission, the rest of the book is an entertaining, though tragic, read. (less)
The fictional story of a young lacemaker hired to play with Marie Therese Charlotte, Marie-Antoinette's daughter, during the time leading up to the be...moreThe fictional story of a young lacemaker hired to play with Marie Therese Charlotte, Marie-Antoinette's daughter, during the time leading up to the beginning of the French Revolution.
Isabelle struggles dealing with a life at court and her life at home, and the growing turmoil between the French public and the French monarchy - a monarchy that is becoming increasingly dangerous to associate with.
I have to say, this is my favorite youth novel set during the time of the French Revolution. It's well-written, engaging for young (and older, in my opinion) readers and it deals with the subject in a fair way. It exposes the hardships of life in France at the time, the unfairness of a court living in riches while thousands miles away are starving, but it doesn't ever stray so far into preaching that it paints the entire court as snobbish monsters. I can definitely see it as being "the" book that might get a young reader wanting to know more - hopefully it has done that already!(less)
Farewell, My Queen is a narrative of the last three days at the court of Louis XVI, told from the perspective of a reader to Marie-Antoinette.
Chantal...moreFarewell, My Queen is a narrative of the last three days at the court of Louis XVI, told from the perspective of a reader to Marie-Antoinette.
Chantal Thomas, who has written several books about Marie-Antoinette and the French Revolution, does well capturing the chaos and downfall of the court.
The book tells a story, but the main focus is rather on Versailles itself. On the courtiers, the way of life, the things that seem absurd to even think of - as the main character states in one passage, it's not that the Bastille has been stormed that bothers the court, but that the king was awakening during the night to be informed!
The book is very heavy on prose, almost as if you were listening to someone tell their story. For some, this is an entertaining way to read, and for others it can be either boring or too much to slog through.
I personally enjoyed it, and recommend it to anyone looking for either a unique perspective from the time or a very captivating description of the downfall of the court. (less)
A very charming picture book story told from the point of view of Marie Antoinette's pug.
The book begins as young Marie Antoinette is told she is to...moreA very charming picture book story told from the point of view of Marie Antoinette's pug.
The book begins as young Marie Antoinette is told she is to leave Austria and become dauphine of France. Both Antoinette and her pet are thrown into the strange life at the French court, which (the dog laments!) leaves Antoinette no time to pay any attention to him!
The book does deal with Marie Antoinette's unhappiness, but does not stray into the French Revolution or anything more serious than general unhappiness.
The illustrations are unique and, in my opinion, quite adorable. A short, fun read for most ages!(less)
A fresh, witty take on the life of Marie Antoinette that is anything but your average historical fiction. It's not for everyone, but readers intereste...moreA fresh, witty take on the life of Marie Antoinette that is anything but your average historical fiction. It's not for everyone, but readers interested in the time period who are looking for something new should give it a try!(less)