The Queen’s Dollmaker by Christine Trent
Claudette Laurent grew up in her father’s shop in Paris where he made gorgeous dolls for the upper class. Between her life with her parents and her time with Jean-Philippe, her childhood friend with whom she has fallen in love, everything seemed perfect for Claudette. Yes, she has heard people, including Jean-Philippe, speak out against the excesses of the nobility and the monarchy, but she doesn’t take it very seriously. When fire breaks out in her neighborhood, though, Claudette is separated from her family, Jean-Philippe, and everyone and everything she’s ever known and loved.
With no idea what to do in Paris, Claudette boards a ship for London where she befriends another Parisian emigrant and her daughters. They end up as servants in the household of a petty, social climbing woman. Life isn’t good, but it is safe. Also, it is in this household that Claudette meets the English gentleman, William Greycliffe, and eventually gets the idea to begin her own doll making shop in London. As revolution foments back in Paris, Claudette is summoned back to France by Marie Antoinette, a commission that could prove to be very dangerous. Now Claudette must decide whether her life belongs in London or Paris, whether her heart belongs to William, or to Jean-Philippe.
Okay, so this was an enjoyable book. Claudette was fun, strong and feisty. Of course, at times she seemed a bit modern for her time period. The romance between Claudette and Greycliffe was also fairly enjoyable, and I’m very glad that Trent did not feel the need to write any elaborate love scenes, but their love story was a bit hard to believe as well. Here Claudette was, a French servant and Greycliffe, a gentleman, falls in love with her when he attends a party thrown by her mistress. It seemed a bit far-fetched to me. And, once the romance angle was firmly established, quite a bit of the story became somewhat predictable.
Trent is a good writer and has clearly done her homework about the time period. All of her details seemed accurate and she didn’t fall into the classic historical fiction trap of wanting to show off all the awesome research done by the author by finding a way to throw in every single fact discovered in research. That being said, I didn’t really feel like I was pulled into the late 18th century, although I cannot really pinpoint the reason for that, some things just felt a bit too modern.. Perhaps it simply suffered by comparison, because I read it immediately after another historical fiction novel that completely transported me both time and place.
It was an entertaining book, and I loved the details of doll making, but it didn’t have as much historical feel as I would have liked.