by Juliet Grey
The first in a trilogy, this is a rare look at Marie Antoinette’s early years, and is told in her unaffected and refreshingly naive perspective. Growing up in the Austrian court of the formidable Empress Maria Theresa, young Antonia was the spirited, though dutiful youngest daughter of a brood of sixteen. Through butterflies and braces, history lessons and dance instruction, Antonia keeps her buoyant attitude and never fails to charm everyone around her. But pleasing her mother takes all she has and much she simply cannot live up to. Even after she is dispatched to France her mother’s advice and admonitions come swiftly and frequently through one of the few connections she left with her homeland–Austrian diplomat, the Comte de Mercy.
As the story progresses we see young Antonia turn into Madame la Dauphine, Marie Antoinette, who not only shows courage, strength and intelligence, but upholds her moralistic views in the face of adversity. As she learns her way around the complicated workings of life at Versailles, she begins a mental list of changes to take in hand when the time comes.
I’ve read several novels of Marie Antoinette’s life, but never one so detailed on her early years. It was a delight to find how she was molded into the role of dauphine even before the papers were signed for her marriage contract. This Antonia is not a stupid, silly girl, but a privileged adolescent trying to understand the ways of the world and uncomplainingly submitting to the advice of her elders.
Although those who are well-versed in the doomed Queen’s fate can see the warning signs, the choices Antonia makes are assuredly well founded and understandable. This is definitely a sympathetic version of the oftentimes maligned Queen, and the most minutely detailed on both Austrian and French customs, right down to dressing, grooming and the state of the palaces in which the royals lived. I’m absolutely loved this book and cannot wait for the second in the trilogy!