Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Queen's Lover - Historical Fiction

The Queen's Lover
Author Francine Du Plessix Gray
The Queen’s Lover begins at a masquerade ball in Paris in 1774, when the dashing Swedish nobleman Count Axel Von Fersen first meets the mesmerizing nineteen-year old Dauphine Marie Antoinette, wife of the shy, reclusive prince who will soon become Louis XVI. This electric encounter launches a life-long romance that will span the course of the French Revolution. The affair begins in friendship, however, and Fersen quickly becomes a devoted companion to the entire royal family. As he roams through the halls of Versailles and visits the private haven of Petit Trianon, Fersen discovers the deepest secrets of the court, even learning about the startling erotic details of Marie-Antoinette’s marriage to Louis XVI. But the events of the American Revolution tear Fersen away. Moved by the colonists’ fight for freedom, he is one of the very first to enlist in the French contingent of troops that will fight for America’s independence.When he returns, he finds France on the brink of disintegration. After the Revolution of 1789 the royal family is moved from Versailles to the Tuileries. Fersen devises an escape for the family and their young children--Marie-Thérèse and the Dauphin Louis-Charles--whom many suspect to be Fersen’s son. The failed evasion attempt eventually leads to a grueling imprisonment, and the family spends its excruciating final days in captivity before the King and Queen face the guillotine. Grieving his lost love after he returns to his native Stockholm, Fersen begins to sense the effects of the French Revolution in his own homeland. Royalists are now targets of the people’s ire, and the carefree, sensuous world of his youth is fast vanishing. Fersen, who has been named Grand Marshal of Sweden, is incapable of realizing that centuries of tradition have disappeared, and he pays dearly for his naïveté, losing his life at the hands of a savage mob that views him as a pivotal member of the aristocracy.Scion of Sweden’s most esteemed nobility, Fersen came to be seen as an enemy of the homeland he loved. His fate is symbolic of the violent speed with which the events of the 18th century transformed European culture. Expertly researched and deeply imagined, The Queen’s Lover offers a fresh vision of of the French Revolution and of the French royal family, as told through the love story that was at its center.
Review: Did you get exhausted just from reading the synopsis? After perusing it, you probably don't need to read the book! If you think this is long-winded, then perhaps skip this novel about the French royal family. With that said, I was very excited when requested to review The Queen's Love because historical fiction is my favorite genre to both read and write. However, this can work for or against a book.  Since this is the genre I'm most familiar with, it tends to get examined with a hyper critical eye. For this particular book, I decided to break up the review into gems and flaws categories.

Gems: What's not to love about the French court?  You know you're in for a treat whenever this part of history is the subject. The historical research and detailing is phenomenal and demonstrates the authors knowledge and care of the era. It's very well documented, precise and sticks to the basics we all know and love. Now, certain readers will appreciate this, or they may find it a bit dry. It really depends on your particular taste. Although it's listed as historical fiction, it reads more like a non-fiction or memoir style book.  I tend to enjoy history that takes more liberties, but do appreciate the painstaking detailing.
Flaws: Flat. The telling is one-dimensional even though it alternates between Sophia and Fersen's perspective.  I could not tell the difference in points of view or voice, which greatly frustrated me. Without the clear personality of each character coming through in the words, I simply couldn't trust or wholly invest in the report. That is what the novel felt like, a report of historical events compiled through journals and documented information.  It stayed on one plane and surfed right along.  All I can say is, flat.  For me this topic and these characters offer way too much to allow them to become, for lack of a better word, boring.  It's a shame, because I wanted to enjoy it and was sadly very disappointed. 
tiny blue diamondtiny blue diamond1/2 star
* ARC provided by The Penguin Press courtesy of Amazon Vine

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