(Cover picture courtesy of Carolyn Meyer’s website.)
History paints her as a shallow party girl, a spoiled fashionista, a callous ruler. Perhaps no other royal has been so maligned—or so misunderstood—as Marie-Antoinette.
From the moment she was betrothed to the dauphin of France at age fourteen, perfection was demanded of Marie-Antoinette. She tried to please everyone—courtiers, her young husband, the king, the French people—but often fell short of their expectations. Desperate for affection and subjected to constant scrutiny, this spirited young woman can’t help but want to let loose with elaborate parties, scandalous fashions and unimaginable luxuries. Meanwhile, the peasants of France are suffering from increasing poverty and becoming outraged. They want to make the queen pay for her reckless extravagance—with her life.
The Bad Queen hasn’t made me like Marie Antoinette any more, but it has helped me understand her. Which was, of course, Carolyn Meyer’s goal when she wrote this book. Most readers will probably like the character of Marie, but I did not simply because our personalities are far too different. From her early childhood, she is a spoiled princess, a dreamer who is not interested in academics at all. I’m the exact opposite, so you can probably tell why I did not like her, but could at least empathize with her.
We follow her journey from when she is betrothed to Louis, all the way past her execution. Since this is written in journal form, we get to learn about the aftermath of her execution through the writings of her daughter. Readers will see the part of the French Revolution that people rarely see—its aftermath, including what happens to the children of the doomed couple.
The Bad Queen is not exactly fast-paced, but neither is it unbelievably slow, so it is quite an interesting read. Personally, I learned an enormous amount of French history in an enjoyable fashion because I know next to nothing of French history. The customs of the French monarchy were absolutely ridiculous, so I can see why Marie eventually rebelled against them. Truthfully, learning of the sheer excesses of the court at Versailles makes me wonder why the French peasants didn’t rebel sooner.
I would recommend this for ages 13+ because of some brief sexual content, but it really depends on the maturity of the reader.
I give this book 3.5/5 stars.