This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. ~~William Shakespeare, Richard III

Friday, November 2, 2012

Book Review: Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, Juliet Grey
4 roses

I was very excited to have the chance to read this book for review for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours as it covers a time and place in history that I have not read about at all - France and the French Revolution. This is the second novel in the author's trilogy about Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. I, of course, had always heard of Marie Antoinette but I had never looked into her history or read anything about what she went through. This was a real treat for me and I have to say it was enjoyable.

This second novel in Ms. Grey's Marie Antoinette trilogy covers a span of about 12 years and starts when Marie and her husband, Louis XVI took the French throne and ends in the midst of the French Revolution. I will be honest and tell you that I am very unfamiliar with French history (beyond knowing that there was a Queen named Marie Antoinette, there was a revolution, and there was Napoleon!) and so I can not say just how factually correct things are in the novel but the author does a very good job of blending her historical points with the narrative of Marie's life. Ms. Grey does include quite a lot of words and phrases in French throughout the story and I had trouble understanding what the characters were saying in these instances; I could make a reasonable guess on most of them but there were many that left me scratching my head. There is a glossary in the back of the book with all these French words and their English translations but it really was too much trouble to be constantly flipping back and forth to figure out what a particular word meant and interrupted the story too much for my taste. I can understand the author's desire to include bits of the language Marie would have been speaking but when the rest of the novel is in English I feel it probably would have been best to leave out all but the most well known French words. All that aside, the story itself was very rich in detail and I had no problem envisioning Marie sitting in her dressing room, having her hair styled in a towering "pouf," and listening to the chatter going on around her. The author did a marvelous job recreating this very sumptuous lifestyle for her readers. I found myself amazed many times at the descriptions of buildings, clothes, jewels, and of course, the towering (and quite comical in my opinion) hairstyles!

As for the characters themselves, Ms. Grey does a good job at bringing out their various personalities and how they react to the many different situations they are confronted with, making it easy for the readers to form an opinion on many of them. Louis XVI was a very kind man and seemed to really love his wife (and eventually his children) but his weakness was maddening. He seemed to really care about his country and his people but could not make a firm decision about anything, leading the populous to believe that he was cold and unfeeling. I felt sorry for him at the end as he was clinging to the idea that the French people were really good and would never do anything to harm the monarchy. I honestly just did not like him very much. When it comes to Marie herself I am quite torn as to how I felt about her. I could understand that she wanted to be involved with some of the decision making but Louis, in a contrary show of stubbornness, kept her away from anything that dealt with the running of the country and with this lack of something to keep her busy, and the fact that she had no children for quite a while, it was inevitable that she would find something to fill her hours. The way she chose to fill those hours got annoying after a while and when it came to her card games, clothes, and (ridiculous) hairstyles I really got a sense of immaturity in Marie. Even when she was being told that her extravagance was ruining her reputation she still "didn't get it." It was only towards the very end of the book that she finally realized that flaunting herself in expensive dresses and hairstyles was earning the public's scorn. I can feel sorry for her as she does seem like quite an innocent and it was heartbreaking to read all the vile things that were said about a Queen who was, most likely, one of the most virtuous Queens France had had in years. While I did feel very sorry for her I also felt like shaking her in the hopes of some sense finding its way into her head under those enormous hairdos. I think when you can feel this torn about someone in a novel then the author has done an excellent job at making a very multi-dimensional character that is quite real.

This really was a great read and I am determined to pick up the first novel in the series, Becoming Marie Antoinette, so I can see how Marie's early life shaped who she was to become later. For someone who was completely lacking in knowledge about the French Revolution, this was an eye opener. It gives the reader quite a bit of historical information but in a way that will not bore you or bog you down in needless details. I can easily recommend this novel to readers who are interested in the life of Marie Antoinette as she is beautifully brought to life on the pages. The only reason for the 4 of 5 roses rating was the way having to constantly flip back to the glossary to get the translations of French words interrupted the flow of the story.

There will be a third and final novel in the trilogy that will deal with the horrible consequences of the French Revolution.

Please CLICK HERE to be taken to the HFVBT blog and see all the other events and reviews in the Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow book tour!

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