Becoming Marie Antoinette is the first book in a new trilogy about the notorious French Queen, Marie Antoinette. In this first novel, author Juliet Grey takes us on a journey from Schönbrunn castle in Vienna, Austria to Versailles in France, as we watch little Maria Antonia, archduchess of Austria transform into Marie Antionette, madame la Dauphine and eventually Queen of France. In Austria, Antonia (as she is called) is raised alongside her many brothers and sisters as the youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Her idyllic life consisted of sunny picnics with her sisters and playing with her dolls and dog Mops. She knows that one day she will be sacrificed to her family’s political ambitions, after all the Hapsburg family motto is “Others wage wars; you, happy Austria, marry” however she does not expect that the day will come so soon.
At age 10 Antonia is betrothed to Louis Auguste, Dauphin of France and grandson of Louis XV. Before Antonia is allowed to marry the Dauphin, she must undergo a complete transformation, from her teeth to her hair to her knowledge of history and French, before she is deemed to be a suitable wife for the next King of France. Once the transformation is complete, Antonia leaves her beloved homeland for the French court at Versailles where she becomes Marie Antoinette. Life at Versailles isn’t at all what she had imagined; instead of a glittering court she finds a rundown palace and she soon finds that life as the Dauphine and a wife is quite boring and lonely. Her husband won’t touch her, she doesn’t know who she can trust and the king is in poor health, Marie Antoinette’s survival at the court of Versailles hangs in the balance.
I thoroughly enjoyed the debut novel from Juliet Grey. Marie Antoinette is one of my favourite historical figures and I find her life extremely interesting. Every time I pick up a novel about this infamous French Queen, I always find myself wishing for a happy ending, although I know that this will not be the case. I absolutely loved the way that this novel was written; there was enough background information given for the reader to fully understand what was going on in the daily lives of the characters, which were developed with care and detail as well.
I loved how Marie Antoinette was portrayed in a sympathetic manner, from a naive, frivolous little girl who develops into a mature and intelligent (yet still naive) young woman throughout the novel. There is evidently character growth throughout the novel as Maria Antonia becomes Marie Antoinette. I really appreciated that Grey focused as much on her early life as an Austrian Archduchess as she did on her being the Dauphine as this is uncommon in the world of historical fiction based on Marie Antoinette. The details included were amazing and they made the story vivid and life like.
The only criticism I had about the novel was that although it was impeccably researched, it has a lot of repetition of events from other historical fiction novels based on the life of Marie Antoinette, for example her relationship with her strict mother, her strong distain for French etiquette and her husbands inability to consummate their marriage for many years. With that being said, I think that the way that Grey wrote these events made them unique and enjoyable to read.
Overall I really, really enjoyed this novel and I cannot wait for the second and third books to come out.
Book 2: “Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow” due out in Summer 2012
Book 3 due out in 2013