Newly crowned queen, Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI represent a return to glory for France and new hope for the future – for a short while, at least. Unfortunately, the disaffection that the French feel towards their monarchy only grows, and Marie Antoinette, guilty or not, is the focal point of their unhappiness. Everything from her expenditure to her origin is put into question, whether right or wrong, and her struggle to have a child isn’t a help either. Throughout these difficult years of Louis’s reign, Marie Antoinette faces daily struggles in all areas of her life, from deceitful subjects to a secret affair to growing discontent among the French people.
Juliet Grey’s first book in the Marie Antoinette trilogy was incredibly captivating; the detail rich story of a young girl taken to a foreign court and specifically groomed to be a queen worked perfectly under her control. Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is much the same, while portraying the middle years of Marie Antoinette’s life and the start of her reign.
It’s easy to forget that this queen was just a teenager when her husband came to the throne; a lot of eighteen and nineteen-year-olds are completely incapable of acting like adults, and here she is expected to bear a child, settle down, and behave respectably. Forced into an incredibly awkward situation where she is unable to actually serve the purpose of getting France an heir through no fault of her own, she has nowhere to go but seek pleasure and distraction elsewhere.
Juliet Grey does an exceptional job of helping the reader understand Marie Antoinette’s faults and the reasons for them, especially when it comes to feeling sympathetic for her. That was definitely one of the highlights of the book for me; I felt so strongly for this particular character that I really wanted history to change. And even as it charged down its pre-set track, I still felt for her and wanted things to improve somehow, some way.
There were actually elements of the history that I’d forgotten but which were clearly pivotal in Marie Antoinette’s life and which play a big role in this book. I also really liked the way the author re-integrated some of the aspects of the previous book into the beginning of this one, so I was reminded of how much I appreciated the little details of her transition to a princess of France. It puts the book into its proper context.
It’s also a reminder of how welcome this trilogy is, as it does such a better job of portraying an entire life than a single book could. Marie Antoinette’s life is complex and changing. Even in this book, a considerable amount of time is skipped, but these years are very eventful ones and they set the scene for the inevitable, which we all know is coming.
This whole trilogy is a very well-done, evocative portrait of the French court during the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and does a fantastic job of getting inside the famous queen’s head and positing what might have motivated her to act as she did. Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is highly recommended – but I do suggest you start with the first in the trilogy. I’m simultaneously dreading and anticipating the last installment, as I’m sure it will be an excellent read, though incredibly heart-rending.
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