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I was no longer as cocooned from the harsh realities of the world as I had been only a year earlier.  The passing of my unloved sister-in-law and the imminent departure of Josepha for an equally loveless marriage forced me to confront a painful lesson about the privileges of rank that I would have been just as happy to delay.  Palaces and carriages and bejeweled gowns came at a high price.  Gap-toothed Marta who emptied my chamber pot every morning may have envied my sumptuous wardrobe and my hours of leisure (and who would not prefer to caress the strings of a harp than dispose of someone else’s urine?), but she had the freedom to follow the promptings of her heart and marry the man she loved because the fate of nations did not depend upon her union.

(from Becoming Marie Antoinette, page 35 in the ARC; finished version may be different)

Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Hapsburg-Lothringen is just 10 years old, enjoying a carefree existence with her older siblings, when she learns that she is to marry the Dauphin of France, Louis Auguste, grandson of King Louis XV.  Becoming Marie Antoinette is the story of the little archduchess of Austria’s transformation into Marie Antoinette, the woman who would become the dauphine and one day be queen.  Maria Antonia thinks of herself as a beauty, but her self esteem takes a hit when the French officials sent to Austria to determine whether she would make a suitable dauphine find that several improvements must be made to her appearance before she can even be considered as a wife to the king’s grandson.  Her mother, the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa, a woman who is more to be feared than loved, is determined to have her daughter cement an alliance between Austria and France — no matter what it takes.

Juliet Grey has obviously done her homework.  Becoming Marie Antoinette is a fascinating story about one of the most fascinating historical figures.  Grey made the right decision in using the first person viewpoint, allowing Maria Antonia to tell her own story.  I knew nothing but the basics about Marie Antoinette before picking up this book, so I enjoyed all the little details Grey includes about Austrian/French relations, proxy marriages, clothing, food, and the list goes on.  I was amazed by everything Maria Antonia endures to become perfect in appearance, from braces to straighten her teeth, extensive lessons in the Versailles glide (a way of walking that makes it appear that her slippers have wheels), to four-hour-long hairstyling sessions to improve her hairline.  Grey helps readers to understand what it must have been like to get married at such a young age to a young boy you have never laid eyes on, not knowing whether he would love you or barely tolerate you.

Becoming Marie Antoinette goes beyond the initial preparations to Maria Antonia’s proxy marriage and journey from her homeland to France.  She’s a young girl torn away from the only life she’s ever known to live in a strange land among strange people and speak a language she can’t seem to master, having never been a good student.  She cannot bring anything from previous life with her, not even her beloved dog, and she must learn the etiquette and navigate the intrigues of the French court alone.  She must learn who to trust and how to birth an heir when her husband wants little to do with her — all the while taking care to never do anything to disappoint her formidable mother.

Grey’s attention to detail won me over right away, and I really enjoyed how she explained things within the narrative without interrupting the flow.  I am aware of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s ultimate fate, but I don’t know how they arrive at the guillotine.  However, Grey does a wonderful job enabling readers to feel sympathy for Marie Antoinette and see her as endearing and naïve.

Becoming Marie Antoinette is the perfect introduction to the life of Marie Antoinette.  My only complaint is that is just an introduction.  The book spans the period from when Maria Antonia learns that she will become the dauphine to the death of Louis XV and the beginning of the reign of Louis XVI.  According to the Reader’s Guide at the end of the book, the sequel, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, will be released in 2012, and the last book in the trilogy will be published the following year.  I am a bit distressed that so many trilogies and series are being published these days, as I prefer the whole story in a single volume to satisfy my curiosity.  But I guess it goes to show how much I enjoyed this book if I’m upset that I have to wait so long to be reunited with the characters and continue the journey.

I have one copy of Becoming Marie Antoinette to offer my readers, courtesy of Ballantine Books/Random House.  To enter the drawing, please leave a comment with your e-mail address and tell me what interests you most about this book.  Because the publisher is shipping the book, this giveaway is open to readers with addresses in the U.S. and Canada only.  You have until 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011, to enter.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for Becoming Marie Antoinette. To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Becoming Marie Antoinette from Random House for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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