Maria Antonia is only a young girl when she’s informed that she is to be the bride of the future King of France – if she can get up to scratch, that is. She quite distinctly must become Marie Antoinette, a woman capable of being Queen of France, with the bearing, appearance, accent, and knowledge that any queen needs. She is melded to progress her family’s agenda, then sent to a brand new country to meet a completely new family, as though her life in Austria never existed. This first installment of a new trilogy fictionalizing Marie Antoinette’s life truly does describe how she became the queen remembered throughout history.
Grey’s novel takes on the life of Marie Antoinette somewhat earlier than other books do and appears to be really taking an exhaustive look at her. I’d never before read about her struggles to actually be accepted as the appropriate wife of the Dauphin; it must have been hard for any young girl to be judged wanting so very much by her future family. She endures extra lessons, surgery on her teeth, and is constantly inspected for improvements.
As you might expect, then, Grey’s Marie Antoinette is a very sympathetic girl. She’s used to the relative flexibility of the Austrian court, even with her strict mother, and the laxness of her tutors who will falsify her results rather than force her to actually learn. Preparing to enter the French court – and then actually doing so – is a rather unpleasant revelation, and we can feel for the girl who has lost everything familiar to her.
Marie Antoinette’s relative innocence navigating the court in France continues, even as she is forced to seduce her own husband by order of her mother. She must become pregnant to solidify her family’s position and to provide an heir to the throne, but her husband is reticent for reasons mysterious to her. The poor girl is not only in an unfamiliar court, confused by the immorality around her, but is also rejected by the one she hoped would treat her well.
If you’re looking at a very sympathetic look at Marie Antoinette, you could hardly go wrong with this one. It’s also very well written, with fantastic descriptions of life in Vienna and Versailles. Grey has done quite a bit of research, as she explains in her author’s note, and almost everything she uses is true to history. She does an excellent job of matching the personalities of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, who both mainly just wanted to escape from their duties and be normal – a tragic story for those who know what is coming.
While I’ve read the story of Marie Antoinette’s life before, I found myself very much enjoying Becoming Marie Antoinette and looking forward to the next volumes. The author’s treatment of a familiar story is well done, and will have the most reluctant reader feeling very much for a young girl cast adrift in an unfamiliar world.
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