Series: Marie Antoinette #1
Published by Ballantine Books on August 9, 2011
Genres: Historical Fiction
This enthralling confection of a novel, the first in a new trilogy, follows the transformation of a coddled Austrian archduchess into the reckless, powerful, beautiful queen Marie Antoinette.
Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?
Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother’s political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.
Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.
Filled with smart history, treacherous rivalries, lavish clothes, and sparkling jewels, Becoming Marie Antoinette will utterly captivate fiction and history lovers alike.
I’m having a hard time starting this review, just like I had a hard time getting into BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE. It’s not a fantastic novel, it’s not horrible — it’s somewhere in the middle.
The book started out very slowly, beginning with Antonia’s childhood in Austria. As a daughter of Marie Theresa, the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, Antonia’s purpose in life was to make a marriage that would increase the power of Austria. The same was true for the Empress’s other children, but Antonia was picked to marry the dauphin of France. The marriage would cement a treaty between Austria and France, and Marie Theresa made it her aim for the match to succeed.
Antonia was an unlikely candidate to become the eventual Queen of France. BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE focuses on a lot of the preparation she underwent to be approved, from educating her to changing her appearance. Antonia was not a particularly intelligent girl, and there was one problem for me with the book — it’s written in the first person point of view, yet many of the descriptions and words used would never have occurred to her. Example: “Maman waved her hand dismissively; at that small hour of the morning she lacked the patience for obsequiousness (p. 112).”
That said, the descriptions of the rituals, clothing, and palaces are sumptuous, and the author does go into more detail than others I’ve read, which some may enjoy. It’s clear that Grey has done her research, and I think she does a good job of introducing the complexities of the time to the reader, but those that know anything on Marie Antoinette may become bored. There isn’t anything new here, other than an attempt to make Marie Antoinette a sympathetic character.
I think the author goes overboard with that goal. I felt as though she was trying to make Marie Antoinette entirely innocent in the French Revolution (which will presumably be the subject of the other two books in the trilogy). I don’t know for sure if that what will happen, but that’s the impression I got. For example, Marie Antoinette is the only one that seems to do anything to help the poor once she is married and in France — something that is stated over and over again. There are quite a few instances of her giving gold or aid to someone, with her adding that she is amazed no one else in the royal family does the same.
Another thing that jarred me was the inclusion of letters throughout the book, some from Marie Theresa to Marie Antoinette, and some between the Empress and Marie Antoinette’s advisers. At first they pulled me away from the first person narrative, but later in the book I got used to them. They provide yet another example of how Marie Antoinette was manipulated by others without her realizing or doing anything about it.
All that said, I will probably read the next book in the trilogy, simply because I am curious as to how Grey will handle the story of Marie Antoinette as she becomes queen.
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