Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Becoming Marie Antoinette

Summary: 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. -- Ballantine

Lately, I have been in a sort of reading funk when in comes to historical fiction. I think I got burnt out on all those books about European royalty. However, I decided to make an exception for BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE by Juliet Grey. First of all, a good friend of mine, who has read tons of books on Marie Antoinette, recommended it to me as a "unique perspective on her life." And secondly, I admit that I liked the premise behind this novel -- the first in a trilogy. I was interested in "learning" how a young archduchess was "made into" the historical queen Marie Antoinette. (I use the term "learning" because you know that I choose to learn about history through historical fiction rather than nonfiction!)

I have to say that I really liked BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE. I haven't read a lot of historical novels on this subject (or nonfiction ones either), so I can't speak for how this book compares to others. However, what I can say is that I found this book to be very entertaining. This novel didn't focus on the court years as much as some other historical novels. Rather it focused on Marie's character, and specifically, her early life. So I think BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE didn't exactly fall into the genre of books that I'm tired of reading. And maybe that's why I was able to enjoy it so much.

There were many interesting things about this novel that made in a good read for me. First of all, I enjoyed the author's writing style and how she blended fact and fiction. She also did an incredible job of describing details and bringing the time period to life. I found myself caught up in the beauty and colors of the fabrics and fashion of the day, as well as the descriptions of the court and its pomp and circumstance. In addition, I found her representation of some of the characters to be fresh and unique. I especially enjoyed seeing how Marie's mother and husband were portrayed.

Another thing about BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE that I enjoyed was how it explored Marie Antoinette's beginnings and gave some insight into how she became such a powerful queen. I enjoyed seeing a less refined side of her -- the girl who actually had to be molded into queen material. Just to give you an idea of some of things that Marie went through in her transformation: she had to learn to walk as if she were on wheels, she had braces for her teeth, she had to learn France's history, and much more. In addition, this book references that Marie might have had a condition like scoliosis because one of her shoulders was higher than the other.

And lastly, I want to mention that I appreciated seeing how Marie and her husband's relationship was portrayed. Both Marie and Louis were very young when they were thrown together, and they had some pretty big obstacles to overcome. While Marie seemed almost ready to take on her role, her husband wasn't anywhere near ready and came across as socially immature. And then they had the pressure of consummating their marriage and providing an heir to the throne. I appreciate how Ms. Grey showed how their characters evolved and how complex their relationship with each other was.

BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE is the first book in a planned trilogy about Marie Antoinette's life. And there is no doubt that this novel sets up the next one. I am looking forward to seeing how Ms. Grey depicts her ruling years in future books; however, I'm afraid that I might not enjoy the next two books as much as this one (although it's entirely possible that I won't be burnt out on king and queen books by the time the next book is released.) Even if I still am in a "royalty rut," I'll be willing to make an exception for these two books.

If you are interested in learning more about Marie Antoinette's youth and early beginnings as queen, then I definitely recommend BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this novel.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I do love all the fabric and fashion and hair stuff about this time period, but I would have to say I like seeing it in pictures and movies more than just reading about it, because it's all so amazing to see!

Serena said...

I have heard great things about this book and it is on my shelves. All these new series are coming out...sometimes it is just daunting to begin.

bermudaonion said...

I don't read much historical fiction, but this one really appeals to me for some reason. I'm glad to see you enjoyed it.

Anna said...

I really enjoyed this book and can't wait for the next two, but I have read hardly any historical fiction about royalty, so it's all new to me.

Anonymous said...

Oh I REALLY need to read this. I love her history and the time period but haven't gotten around to reading this one yet. Glad you enjoyed it!

Bailey said...

I won this one in a giveaway and am anxiously awaiting its arrival! I haven't read much about this time period or setting, but it's still really appealing.

Kailana said...

I really enjoyed this book. It was a very detailed look at a very interesting life. I am looking forward to the next book!

Beth F said...

Oh I'm so glad this was good. I have always felt bad for her -- so villainized over the years and yet she had such little say over her life -- especially her young life. In the end, I think she was pretty strong. I read a biography of her a few years ago and so this HF will likely appeal to me.

Michelle said...

I loved this one! I approached it rather hesitantly, as I didn't know what to expect. I was afraid they were going to trivialize her life or make it too fictionalized. Instead, I felt like the reader had a fantastic glimpse into the mundacity of royal life. I am really anxious to see how Grey takes on the ruling years!