Sunday, 6 June 2010

Book Review: The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette by Carolyn Meyer.


Product details:
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books.
Hardcover, 432 pages.
Release date: April 12th 2010.
Target Age Group: Young Adult.
Rating: 3½ out of 5
Source: Received from NetGalley for review.

Summary from Goodreads:

History paints her as a shallow party girl, a spoiled fashionista, a callous ruler. Perhaps no other royal has been so maligned--and so misunderstood--as Marie-Antoinette.

From the moment she was betrothed to the dauphin of France at age fourteen, perfection was demanded of Marie-Antoinette. She tried to please everyone--courtiers, her young husband, the king, the French people--but often fell short of their expectations. Desperate for affection and subjected to constant scrutiny, this spirited young woman can't help but want to let loose with elaborate parties, scandalous fashions, and unimaginable luxuries. But as Marie-Antoinette's lifestyle gets ever more recklessly extravagant, the peasants of France are suffering from increasing poverty--and becoming outraged. They want to make the queen pay.

In this latest installment of her acclaimed Young Royals series, Carolyn Meyer reveals the dizzying rise and horrific downfall of the last Queen of France.

This is the first book I've read in Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals series, and I very much enjoyed it. Marie-Antoinette is one of my favourite historical characters, although this is the first work of fiction I've read on her.   I've always been interested in her story, and here Carolyn Meyer has written an enjoyable and well balanced account of Marie Antoinette, from her early life in Austria to her final days and brutal death during the French Revolution.

We meet Marie Antoinette when she is just twelve years old and already promised in marriage to the French dauphin, Louis-Auguste.  We learn of all the rules of etiquette Marie-Antoinette must obey when she enters the French court, and also the extreme measures taken to ensure she looks perfect for the dauphin. Some of these are pretty harsh, and you don't even want to know what Marie-Antoinette has to endure at the hands of her dentist!   On reaching France and the palace of Versailles, she embarks on a marriage which is unfulfilling and leads her to find excitement in other areas of her life, namely extravagant dresses, parties at Le Petit Trianon, gambling and a love affair with the Swedish count Axel Von Fersen.  While Marie-Antoinette was much maligned in French society for her extravagant fashions and indulgent style of living, I have to say that I loved the descriptions of the different fashions and hairstyles during the time.  For me, I have always thought that Marie-Antoinette's only crime was these indulgences at a time when the ordinary people of France were starving and  suffering.  She was young, shallow and spoiled, but she did not deserve the treatment she suffered at the hands of her subjects.

Meyer really brings the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's private retreat at Versailles, to life.  I visited Versailles and the Petit Trianon last year, and I have to say that Meyer's descriptions of the building and especially the surrounding gardens are really wonderful.   While the  writing is straightforward and simplistic, a style I am not used to in historical fiction, I warmed to it after a time. This is is written for younger audiences and I think the straightforward explanations of the sometimes complicated and often boring French revolution will appeal to younger readers with an interest in history.

As the book develops, the style begins to flow, especially in the final part of the book which I found very moving.  Here, the narration moves from Marie-Antoinette to that of her daughter, Marie-Thérése.  To see the French revolution through the eyes of the young girl is saddening.  She sees her whole family taken away from her and hears of the deaths of everyone she ever loved.  The final part of the book is pretty brutal, and also very well written.  I was pretty engrossed in the story by this point, and this part of the story, although bloody and brutal, was one of my favourite parts of the book.  I also enjoyed learning of Marie-Therese's later life as it's something not often detailed in history books.

I am glad that Meyer included an author's note on the infamous "Let them eat cake" line.  I was wondering if this would be included in the book, and glad that it was not, since Marie-Antoinette never said this.  I am big on historical accuracy, even in historical fiction.  Overall I found this to be an enjoyable and interesting read.  It's a good starting point for some background information on Marie-Antoinette's life, and should you want to continue your reading, Meyer has included a helpful bibliography at the back of the book.

5 comments :

  1. Great review. I wasn't sure if this was a book i wanted to read, but now i'm thinking I might give it a try.

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  2. Sounds like a great read - will look out for it!
    xxx

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  3. I really enjoyed this book too and the historical details. That is neat that you got to visit Versailles. Great review!

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  4. Havent read this book but it seems pretty cool..Great review and i enjoyed reading it ;p

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  5. This is a great review. I am going to try to get my hands on a copy this year. I'm happy to hear that you have a good degree of familiarity with the facts surrounding Marie Antoinette and still give this historical fiction your seal of approval. I too like my historical fiction to be as historically accurate as possible. Thank you.

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