As this is the first book of a trilogy, it dealt with the early years of Marie Antoinette’s life, from the time she was first contracted to marry the Dauphin of France at 10 to her eventual rise to the throne as Queen of France at 15. But this wasn’t a YA book. For the most part, this was a book about a humble girl of great origins who had to scrabble her way into the role that awaited her whether she wanted it or not. The young Marie was easy to sympathize with for the most part. Though she was young and had some flightiness about her, it was angering to see her being forced into more and more elaborate beauty treatments and rituals in order to satisfy the French ambassador. This included being fitted for what can only be described as medieval braces, and the descriptions of these scenes had me wincing in discomfort as Marie’s teeth were barbarically realigned by a master dentist. The sad part about all this is that Marie was constantly made to feel inferior and ashamed of herself in her natural state; a situation that reminded me of the way society treats the young women of today, constantly telling them that they are not quite good enough to deserve attention and reverence. Not only were her looks criticized, but her mind as well, and it was her mother’s stern admonishments and iron fist in the matter of Marie’s future that made her not only unapproachable, but sometimes cruel as well.
The second and more pressing concern for Marie came when she entered France as the Dauphine. All the rigorous preparation she had endured seemed to count for nothing, as she became aware that the court of France and the court of Austria were entirely different animals. Though Marie wanted to form an attachment to her new husband, the Dauphin, only a few years older than her, seemed impervious to her charms and the lack of marital harmony between them sparked rumor and speculation among the gossipy French court. Another problem Marie faced was her inability to tell when she was being manipulated to someone else's advantage. This rapidly brought problems for her and marred her already tenuous standing at court. For Marie, life was all about balancing her newfound relationship with her husband and her people with the good opinion of the reigning King Louis. In these sections, Marie’s good nature seemed to abandon her and she became somewhat smug and intractable, which of course brought reprobation down on her head. Part of the problem was that the French and their court were so much more manipulative than the court of her home, and all too soon, Marie found herself caught up in these plights as well.
What Grey manages to capture in this book is not only the coming of age story of Marie Antoinette, but the heightened drama that took place surrounding her eventual marriage to the Dauphin and the delicacy that was required for her to get herself beyond the traps that others had set for her. It was a delicious story that I ended up devouring in one sitting, not only because it was filled with the fascinating minutiae of court life, but also because Grey’s version of Marie Antoinette was one that I could immediately sympathize with and become concerned for. It was the type of historical fiction I hunger for, where people and places come alive, and where the past seems just as immediate as the life that you or I live today. Grey’s style and language drew me in from the first moment and carried me away to a place I wasn’t familiar with but that I felt at home in from first blush. I had wished the book was longer so that I could have found out the answer to some of the more puzzling aspects of Marie’s future, but I guess I’ll have to be patient in waiting on the next installment.
If you’re the kind of reader that prefers their historical fiction to be well rounded and character driven, this is definitely the book for you. There’s enough intrigue and court scandal to envelop even the most picky reader of this genre, and this version of Marie Antoinette is one that delights and sometimes confounds. I loved this book, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Marie will go next in her rise to the throne of France. I’m also looking forward to seeing the strange progression that she will face with her new husband, the Dauphin of France. A very entertaining and rich read, filled to the brim with historical detail. Recommended to readers of historical fiction of all stripes.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.