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

Synopsis:

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.

Overall:

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.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

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Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* 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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The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann – Book Review

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann
Published by Ecco Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

Emil Larsson finally has the life he wants as a well-regarded Swedish customs official. In addition to his salary, being a customs official gives him the opportunity for some extracurricular compensation. This plus his winnings at cards gives Larsson a very nice living. Unfortunately, everything he has is now at risk, as his supervisor is threatening to let him go if he does not get married and settle down. Luckily for Larsson’s position, Mrs. Sparrow – the proprietor of the gaming parlor he frequents – has had a vision about him, a vision that promises him love and connection. To find out how to bring this love and connection about, Mrs. Sparrow is going to practice a form of divination she created herself, the Octavo, which will help Larsson identify the eight people in Stockholm who can help him realize the vision. Before long, Larsson finds himself caught up in the revolt of the nobles against King Gustav, an event that is precipitated by – and may have serious repercussions on – the ensuing French Revolution.

Based on the dust jacket description of The Stockholm Octavo, I was a little bit afraid that Engelmann was trying to promote a New Thing through historical fiction. Thankfully, this turns out not to be the case. The characters certainly believe in the power of the Octavo wholeheartedly, and for all I know Engelmann also believes fervently in these sorts of connections, the The Stockhom Octavo is not setting out to create a fad. Instead, it is a recognition of the interconnectedness of human lives, and the way interpersonal relationships have shaped our shared history.

Larsson starts out as a brash and often obtuse young man whose only real thoughts are what he can gain from any given situation. The processes of first laying out the Octavo, and then of deciphering which people in his life fit the positions of his Octavo force him to become more aware of the humanity that surrounds him and of the greater good. He begins to be less selfish, and more in tune to the needs of others instead of only himself. In the first ten pages, Emil Larsson is a character you are not sure you can spend an entire book with, but by the last ten he is a character you are glad you did.

I was not quite as caught up in The Stockholm Octavo as I hoped I might be, based on the reactions of some readers I trust, but I did very much enjoy it, and I believe it is a book that will stay with me. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
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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