Book Reviews

Book Review – Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey, or Why I Couldn’t Be a French Princess

Becoming Marie Antoinette is an intriguing novel that follows the early life of doomed queen Marie Antoinette from her early years as a child in Austria under her formidable mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, to her ascension as queen of France. I’m actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, even though I did put it down at one point.

What I Liked:

Juliet Grey managed to humanize Marie Antoinette. In so many other novels I’ve read, Marie is either portrayed as a saint or as the devil incarnate. There’s not usually a happy medium. However, in this book, while Marie is shown with both good and flawed character traits, like any character should. This portrayal really makes her feel relatable. I mean, it couldn’t have been easy leaving the only home you’ve ever known to marry a boy you’ve never met at the age of fourteen. When I was fourteen, I was still under the impression that I had to put my arms and legs inside my blankets so nothing would “get” me. In other words, if I was her, I’d be pretty inept. Now, I’m not exactly saying that she was inept when she got to France, but she could’ve benefited from one more year at home with her mother. She never understood how precarious her position as the dauphine and thus the queen of France was. Hell, she couldn’t even take part in politics because it wasn’t something the queen consort of France should worry her pretty little head about. Ugh. No wonder all she cared about was having fun and gambling. That’s probably all I would have cared about, too.

The author also managed to bring Versailles to life, especially the ridiculous rules regarding the etiquette of the royal court. I would have HATED living in the French court back then…I mean, French revolution aside, but if I couldn’t get dressed without my underwear being passed around from noblewoman to princess to Princess of the Blood, I would have cursed out everyone within hearing distance and then be sent back to whatever country I came from.

What I Thought Was Meh:

Louis Auguste. Poor, awkward Louis Auguste. I kind of felt sorry for our dear dauphin. He’s just sooooo awkward. However, he annoyed the hell out of me, because Marie would be trying to tell him how she felt and he’d just repeat something one of his tutors told him. Like, damn it, Louis, you’re going to be the king of France. Grow a backbone! Also, there’s all this build up about why they didn’t consummate their marriage, but it’s left by the wayside and will get picked back up in the second book. If you studied history, you know why it took so long, but it didn’t need to be treated like it was some big secret. I did love his character when he and Marie would have their tender moments though. Hopefully, there’ll be more of those in the sequel.

The conflict between Marie and the king’s mistress, Madame du Barry, was equally awkward, and it didn’t need to happen. I know it does happen in history, and Marie uttered her utterly insipid line about how there’s people at Versailles, but the way it’s portrayed in this novel made me want to bang my head on the wall. A good five chapters was spent with Marie going “Should I talk to her?” and then “No, she’s a whore” over and over again. And it was especially annoying that the only reason she started this whole conflict was because Marie got advice from people she should’ve ran away screaming from. At least it was entertaining.

What I Didn’t Like:

The pacing!!!!!!! I ended up putting the novel down toward the beginning of the novel, because the chapters where she’s training to be the dauphine were just soooooooo boring. I can only read so much about the Versailles glide and her hideous medieval braces for so long. Don’t get me wrong, I did find all of this interesting, but not interesting enough. I did soldier through though and the pacing did pick up once she (FINALLY!) arrived at Versailles.

Final Verdict:

All in all, I liked Becoming Marie Antoinette. Even though the pacing was really slow, I did love Marie’s character and she had me laughing out loud during some scenes. It’s really like listening to Marie Antoinette tell her story. I do plan to start the next book soon!

Rating: B+