Book Tour Review: Confessions of Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Thursday, October 3, 2013
Title: Confessions of Marie Antoinette
Author: Juliet Grey
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Marie Antoinette #3
Pages: 445 (ARC edition)
Published: September 24 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

Confessions of Marie Antoinette, the riveting and sweeping final novel in Juliet Grey’s trilogy on the life of the legendary French queen, blends rich historical detail with searing drama, bringing to life the early years of the French Revolution and the doomed royal family’s final days.

Versailles, 1789. As the burgeoning rebellion reaches the palace gates, Marie Antoinette finds her privileged and peaceful life swiftly upended by violence. Once her loyal subjects, the people of France now seek to overthrow the crown, placing the heirs of the Bourbon dynasty in mortal peril.

Displaced to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, the royal family is propelled into the heart of the Revolution. There, despite a few staunch allies, they are surrounded by cunning spies and vicious enemies. Yet despite the political and personal threats against her, Marie Antoinette remains above all a devoted wife and mother, standing steadfastly by her husband, Louis XVI, and protecting their young son and daughter. And though the queen and her family try to flee, and she secretly attempts to arrange their rescue from the clutches of the Revolution, they cannot outrun the dangers encircling them, or escape their shocking fate.

When someone thinks of Marie Antoinette, they remember a doomed queen who lived with privilege and in excess while her subjects struggled to live. In all three of her novels about this famous Austrian daughter, Juliet Grey has presented her as a real person -- one generous, but occasionally foolish in the extreme; someone who was kind but lived with a very limited worldview. This version of Marie Antoinette is capable of engendering both empathy and understanding from the audience, even as she heads toward her bloody end. With the final novel in her historical series, Grey delivers a compelling and suspenseful read, full of drama and distress.

Through her entire trilogy, Grey has excelled at making the historical figures featured so much more than names on a page. Through the foibles and fallacies of the cast - be they royal, noble, or commoner - they are all well-rendered and multi-dimensional. The bulk of the characterization is fixed on Marie, and to a lesser extent, her family and the final chapters of Confessions of Marie Antoinette show how far this Austrian Princess had come in her 20+ years as a French noble. Along her multi-decade journey from a princess of Austria to the dauphine of France to Queen of France/the French to Citizeness Capet to, eventually, the Widow Capet, Marie has grown and changed immeasurably from the girl she started as. The dramatic and tragic trajectory of this woman's life is compelling, even when readers know the foregone conclusion before ever starting.

This is a far more bleak novel than the volumes that preceded it. Then, Marie was coming into her own, as a woman, a mother, and as a Queen. Here, with the bloody Revolution looming, Marie's life is a far cry from what she has known before. The book even starts out harshly - many of Marie's closest confidants and friends have either fled or been exiled. However, Marie is never one to give up easily. With Louis by her side and Count Axel von Fersen behind her, Marie's attempts to survive in such a hostile climate are genuine but ultimately ill-fated. Through the nascent beginnings of French democracy, violent demagogues, and frequent decapitations, this strong character fights for her family and for her husband's monarchical rights as an autocratic King. Her romantic entanglements, though still an important facet of her life, are relegated to more minor plotlines as the struggle for the monarchy takes precedence in both Marie's life and in the main story.

Confessions of Marie Antoinette, though chiefly concerned with the last four years of Marie's life, is not told entirely in her limited first person narration. The book occasionally switches to a third-person perspective for the view of Louison Chabray. Based on a real historical sculptress who participated in the Women's March on Versailles, Louison adds another layer of depth to the portrayal of life in 1700's France. She is one of the rebels, but she is not without sympathy for the ousted monarchs. Louison is the least defined of all the characters, but Grey still handily uses her to showcase a new and authentic point-of-view for her series. Her passion for liberté, égalité, and fraternité is tempered with reason and sympathy, but she is nevertheless caught up in the inescapable national fervor that sweeps France during the late 1780s- 1790s.

Rife with detail and description, Grey nevertheless manages to maintain and even flow and a steady pace through the book's nearly 450 pages. The prose is dense with research and the characters are well-drawn, even the antagonists. Juliet Grey's talent as an author is as apparent as her passion for the time-period she has so ably depicted over these three novels. What Becoming Marie Antoinette started, and Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow ably continued, Confessions of Marie Antoinette finishes with style and flair. Though the struggle in France is far from over when Marie meets her abrupt end, her story ends with unexpected acceptance and peace.

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