The Queen’s Lover by Francine du Plessix Gray – Audiobook Review

The Queen’s Lover by Francine du Plessix Gray, narrated by Edoardo Ballerini
Published in audio by Penguin Audiobooks, published in print by The Penguin Press, both imprint of Penguin


Swedish Count Axel von Fersen is the infamous lover of Marie Antoinette, the French queen who would lose her head. The two meet while Marie Antoinette is still the dauphine and their relationship continues throughout the rest of her life. Indeed, von Fersen is even the brains behind the royal family’s unsuccessful attempt to flee the country once the Revolution begins to get truly dangerous. Even so, he is typically a minor character in the story of the French Revolution. In The Queen’s Lover, we see the entire situation from Axel’s point of view, including his life after the execution of his beloved queen.

Thoughts on the story:

The Queen’s Lover is told as if posthumously through von Fersen’s diaries and memoirs, which themselves seem to have been written after the majority of the events in question. As a result there is – strangely, for fiction – essentially zero dialogue. This give the narrative almost a clinical feel, Axel seems to be reporting on the events in question more as a historian would than as a participant would, creating a less compelling narrative than one might expect from Marie Antoinette’s lover. von Fersen himself also comes across as fairly unlikeable, professing his great love for Marie Antoinette, all the while having affairs with other women even while the queen is still alive.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Edoardo Ballerini actually brings more depth and emotion toThe Queen’s Lover than is necessarily indicated in du Plessix Gray’s story, making it a better listen that it might otherwise be. At times I nearly even forgave Ballerini’s von Fersen for his infidelities, but when the king is only one of two husbands he is cuckolding, it is difficult, even with Ballerini’s sympathetic narration. There is not much cause for Ballerini to give characters different voices due to the lack of dialogue, but his vocal changes give depth to the difficult situations described.

For more, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.


I wish du Plessix Gray had simply written this as nonfiction, it could have been interesting and informative, but it was a bit odd as fiction. If you are going to attempt this, I strongly recommend the audiobook, as Ballerini keeps the story moving.

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Source: Audiofile Magazine.
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Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey – Book Review

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey
Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House

This is the second book in the Marie Antoinette series. I have previously reviewed the first book, Becoming Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette is now Queen of France, following the death of her husband’s grandfather. However, she is not yet a mother, nor has she even been given the opportunity to become one. As a women who both wants to become a mother and a queen whose duty is to become one, this childlessness leaves a hole in the queen’s heart. For Marie Antoinette, that hole is partially filled with parties, Le Petit Trianon, card games, and extravagant coiffures and gowns. Her extravagances lead her to be increasingly despised, particularly as members of the extended royal family create a smear campaign against her as a way to weaken the king’s authority and enhance their own.

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow spans the time between when Louis and Marie Antoinette become king and queen and the meeting of the National Assembly and the storming of the Bastille. Over the course of the book Marie Antoinette becomes a mother and matures, but if anything her reputation with the French public becomes worse. As in Becoming Marie Antoinette, Juliet Grey has transported her readers into 18th century French court life and particularly Marie Antoinette’s consciousness. I really appreciate that Grey has decided to take a trilogy to tell Marie Antoinette’s story, instead of simply a single novel, because it really helps readers understand how and where her world went so terribly wrong. Not only are Marie Antoinette’s motivations – particularly for her party girl ways early in her queenship – more easily understood, but so are the reasons for the French Revolution. In fact, I think only in nonfiction have I seen the causes of the French Revolution so well laid out.

This period of Marie Antoinette’s initial queenship is perhaps not the most exciting period of her life, but Grey manages to keep Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow interesting. I appreciate that the books in this series could be read as standalones if one has a basic knowledge of the history, but they are undoubtedly more effective when read in series order. I cannot wait for the The Last October Sky, the last book in this series, which is scheduled to be published in 2013. If these first two books are any indication, The Last October Sky will be a powerful read.

Highly recommended.

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Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey – Book Review

Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey
Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House

Marie Antoinette is likely the best known, or at least most notorious, of all French queens. She is often reviled as an out-of-touch aristocrat who would flippantly tell her starving subjects to simply eat cake; she absolutely did not say this, by the way, Rousseau recorded them as being spoken by a ‘great princess’ when she was the nine-year-old Maria Antonia, Archduchess of Austria.

Many novels about Marie Antoinette begin at the moment she leaves Austria for France, some even include that tragic moment where she is forced to leave her little dog Mops is taken from her because he is not French. Becoming Marie Antoinette, is, however, the first historical novel I have come across that gives readers a good picture of her life as Maria Antonia of Austria. Seeing Maria in her native land in the time immediately leading up to her travel to France is extremely instructive for those who wish to understand her later actions as Dauphine of France. In fact, Grey is able to give much more attention to questions of motivation and politics than many historical novels due to her structuring of Marie Antoinette’s story in a trilogy. Many readers bemoan the prevalence of series and trilogies, the fact that little seems to stand alone these days, but in this case, it enhances the story being told.

That is not to say that Becoming Marie Antoinette is a perfect historical read. At times our heroine’s voice is somewhat overly modern, particularly towards the beginning of the book. Before long, however, the voice either evens out, the story becomes so engaging that modernity doesn’t matter, or some combination of the two. The chapter headers remain somewhat modern, for example Chapter 8 is titled “The Really Hard Work Begins,” but that isn’t terribly intrusive. Aside from these minor issues, however, Grey seems to have really done her homework with Becoming Marie Antoinette, and presents to her readers an engaging and historically faithful novel.

Overall, a fabulous treatment of Marie Antoinette. I recommend it and personally cannot wait for the sequel.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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