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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Review: Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey


Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey
ARC, Paperback, 480 pages
Ballantine Books
August 9, 2011
★★★★☆

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Received from publisher as part of TLC Book Tour
"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."
Becoming Marie Antoinette is the first book in a planned trilogy about the life of this notoriously well know Queen of France. In this first outing, author Juliet Grey takes us on a journey from the Austrian court at Schonbrunn where Maria Antonia spent many of her younger days to the glistening palace at Versailles where Marie Antoinette emerges. For me, this was my first real foray into a novel about this queen and I was not at all disappointed with the details of her growing up that were included.

Most books on Marie Antoinette skim over the details of her younger life to get to “the good stuff” - her downfall courtesy of Madame Guillotine. One of my favorite aspects of this book was that the first half of the book really focuses on her formative years growing up under the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. You really get a feel for that court - which also does not usually get much of a novel treatment - and Marie’s family. Her sisters, especially Charlotte and Josepha, were her closest companions. We also learn a lot about their mother, Empress Maria Theresa and oldest brother, Emperor Joseph. It was refreshing to get to know a court that is not usually represented in fiction.

One of the most vivid scenes for me was during the time Marie had to go through improvements to become acceptable to marry the dauphin of France. I did not realize that they had braces back then and the process that was described sounded very familiar to my own experience with braces at age 10. This scene was probably the one thing that really endeared Marie to me - although I have to imagine that her experience with them was probably worse then mine!

I had a love/hate relationship with the writing style of this novel. First the good - I really loved the French and German that were peppered throughout the narrative. Even without know hardly any of either of those languages it was easy enough to derive the meaning from the context. During her years at the Austrian court this switch between languages served to show which state of mind Marie was in - slipping easily back into German when excited or upset. I did, however, have issues with some of the word choices used. There were times when it felt like I needed to have a dictionary constantly at the ready because every fourth or fifth word I didn’t know - and I tend to consider that I have a decent vocabulary. There was an overuse of “Thesaurus words” which really left me frustrated because they were either an unnecessary choice or frequently over used. It just made for much slower reading. Here is an example:
“Immediately I felt inadequate and wished that my own bosom was as pulchritudinous and had been molded to such perfection” (ARC pg 223).

Overall, I really enjoyed this take on the teenage years of Marie Antoinette’s life. We leave her on the verge of just becoming queen. I would recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of Marie Antoinette and wants to see a more personable side of her. The second book Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow will pick up where we left our newly minted king and queen.

This is author Juliet Grey’s first novel in a planned trilogy. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

My review of other books by this author:

Reviews of this book by others:

You can also watch the book trailer below:
 
 
Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).
 
 


Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

17 comments:

  1. I'm reading this one now, I really like it. I was horrified at the braces too!! I don't see how they even worked as far as straightening her teeth!

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  2. I have been looking forward to reading this one- thanks for the great review!

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  3. Carrie - it was really horrible sounding!

    Anne - hope you enjoy it!

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  4. I thought this author had published novels under another name previously?

    I am undecided on whether I want to read this one or not!

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  5. Marg - if the author has published under another name I'm unaware - but either way, it's the first book by Juliet Grey.

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  6. Thanks for the review! But--oh my, the costuming in that trailer is mildly terrifying...not to be mean, but wow! wrongsies. I imagine the authenticity is better in the novel--books usually do better than movies :) I'll have to keep a lookout for this one!

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  7. Great review, Heather. I'm going to read this one soon, and will make sure I have my dictionary handy when I do :-)

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  8. Rowenna - I too thought it was a little different - didn't really portray what the book was about too much, but I can get the idea of BECOMING Marie Antoinette.

    Melissa - Certainly have it handy!

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  9. A most enlightening video. It is always interesting to see how complex fashions were. Maids were a necessity for dressing. There was no way to lace up your own corset or dress.

    The details of her early life should be interesting. As you say, it has been mostly overlooked. I take note of your comments and will have a dictionary handy. There really is no need to use unnecessary words. We will be more impressed by the information and the style than by needing to research the author's word choices.

    Thanks for the review.

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  10. It was extremely refreshing to read about the young Marie Antoinette, before she became the misunderstood legend. I particularly enjoyed the author's research and her perspective of several of the supposed events of her life. Although I'm starting to hate trilogies (simply because I'm impatient and want to read it all right now), I am looking forward to reading book two.

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  11. Librarypat - I couldn't agree more - I kept getting hung up on the words and I felt that it sometimes took away from the story a slight bit. But I still very much enjoyed it!

    Natalie - I have a love/hate relationship with trilogies. I love them if it is a theme/character/story that I am enjoying and don't want to end - but I do miss the idea of a story being wrapped up in one book.

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  12. I'm looking forward to reading this one in spite of the flaws you mentioned - her life has always fascinated me.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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  13. I can't wait to get started on this series. I am glad you tried out this series. Thank you for the review to get me to add it to my list

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    1. I put on my enter that I was griperang I am sorry I thought that was my google name.

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    2. I hope you enjoy it when you do get the chance to read it. No problem with the entry!

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  14. I had forgotten about her braces :( they did a lot to 'prepare' her.

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    1. Yeah they did, it sounds so horrible!

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Thanks for leaving your comments! I love reading them and try to reply to all!