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Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow: A Novel of…
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Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow: A Novel of Marie Antoinette

by Juliet Grey

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This is the second book in a Marie Antoinette trilogy. I haven't read the first one, but I don't think it's necessary if you're familiar with her story at all (though I'd like to go back and read it anyway). This one starts out when King Louis XV has died and her husband, Louis-Auguste has ascended to the throne.

This is an okay interpretation. I say it's just okay because I don't like the "voice" she uses for Marie Antoinette, she would have done better to use third person. The first person is really distant, too distant to feel like her. I don't know. It didn't fit. I did like the letters, though, especially the ones from Axel to his sister, Sophia. They were a nice break from the monotonous tone of the first person.

The first scene was also super well written, but it was a pretty confusing way to start the novel. I was very confused about what that had to do with anything, and I don't think it should have been the very first scene.

If you want a good Antoinette book, I suggest "Abundance". ( )
  lovelylime | Sep 21, 2013 |
Where I got the book: purchased from author. Signed.

I was pretty enthusiastic about the first book in this series, Becoming Marie Antoinette, so I'm kind of sorry to report I didn't like this one nearly as much. Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow covers the story of Marie Antoinette from the first days of Louis XVI's reign to the beginning of the French Revolution, so from 1774 to 1789.

Except that it didn't stick to just Marie Antoinette. I think my problem with Days by contrast to Becoming is that the latter was a fairly intimate portrait of Marie Antoinette's life and how she coped with marrying into a strange country, while Days has the more ambitious aim of extending the reader's understanding to the political events of the day. The author evidently did a huge amount of research for this book and succumbed to the temptation of using it.

Yes, yes, it's the HF author's dilemma: you're damned if you do use your research and if you don't, some readers are going to say you didn't do it. There's an extremely fine line to walk with respect to supplying just enough flavor of what's going on to keep the reader anchored in history, but not overdoing it. In Becoming it was the imagined interpersonal dynamics I enjoyed the most: I'm not sure whether the interspersed letters were real or imagined, but I thought they added enough weight to the story as it was. I wanted more of the same, and didn't get enough of it.

I'm the sort of HF reader who would rather dig into a history book than a novel to get at the facts. What I look for in historical fiction is the imagined interior and exterior world of the character. I want to be there; I want the setting to be as accurate as possible but I don't need to read too much about it; I want to feel what the character must have felt. The stuff that history books generally leave out. In Becoming Grey satisfied this requirement, whereas in Days I felt as if Marie Antoinette was sitting there telling me "this happened, and then this happened," and I just want to ask her: but how did you FEEL?

For example, in her author's note Grey suggests that Marie Antoinette's pleasure-seeking behavior during the early days of the monarchy (her excessive gambling and expenditure on clothes and décor) was due to the fact that her deepest needs, a true marriage and children, were not being fulfilled. That's a reasonable suggestion. But the story concentrates on the externals: how much was wagered, what was lost, what was purchased, and so on. It's nicely put together as a fictional account: dialogue and setting are well done, but I can't help feeling that we're seeing the surface of the story rather than the depth.

Another problem that developed as I read into the novel was that the point of view, which at the beginning is firmly in Marie Antoinette's head (as it was, if I remember rightly, all through Becoming) starts shifting around, first jumping out just for a while into someone else's head and then, by the end of the book, resembling more and more that of an omniscient narrator. For example:

Beneath the gilded medieval vaulting a crush of perspiring and over-perfumed spectators sat brocaded elbow to elbow on the benches in the two galleries of the Palais de Justice's Grand Chambre. Even the worst seats were being sold for astronomical sums, and on any day a lucky man might make his fortune by retailing his privilege to sit on an unforgiving bench for nine hours to a soul even more desperate for sensationalism. The preliminary investigation had been conducted in secret, with the lawyers' fictionalized trial briefs the only way for the public to learn what was transpiring behind the walls of the Palais de Justice.

Do you hear the voice of Marie Antoinette here, or that of the author?

I hope I've done a reasonable job describing what I think went wrong. Of course every reader's requirements from fiction are different, and if I'd approached this book as a standalone I might have reacted differently. But the first book created an expectation in me for the second that wasn't really met. ( )
  JaneSteen | May 5, 2013 |
Another solidly impressive journey into the life of Marie Antoinette, Grey again proves, with her second novel in a planned trilogy, that she is a skilled writer, able to evoke time, place, and characters with equal vivacity. Beginning two weeks after the first novel, Becoming Marie Antoinette, ended, Grey immediately relaunches herself and the reader into an opulent, turbulent world with her title character more prominent than ever in French society. In this detailed, rich novel, full of eye-popping descriptions of everything from le Petite Trianon to the poufs that adorn Marie's head, both the narrative and the letters from the Queen to her family at home in Austria all serve to form a comprehensive picture of life in Louis XIV's France. Formerly the Dauphine, transitioning now into the role of the Queen of France, Marie finds herself with prestige, but little actual power. Iconic, but politically impotent, bereft of the love and attention she desperately craves, Grey provides ample reasons (that actually work!) for the reasons behind the monarch's spendthrift ways. Much like the evolution she underwent in the first book, this well-rendered version of Marie Antoinette is far from stagnant, but makes choices, for good or ill, that will drastically affect the people and country she governs.

The Marie so carefully cultivated by the author is much more than the villianess that most of history remembers her as. Spoiled, yes. A glutton for fine things? Yes. But evil, intent on harming the common folk and abusing them? No. The vivid woman shown here in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is a more mature, more intelligent version of the girl she used to be and Grey takes care to paint her protagonist as realistically as possible. For all that Queen Marie is remembered and vilified as a one-sided caricature of vice, selfishness, and greed, Grey shows a multitude of other facets of her personality. Kind, lonely, funny, maternal, the author is deft in her portrayal in all the facets of this fascinating woman from the good to the bad. Her Marie Antoinette is always not wholly sympathetic ("For what is money, with happiness at stake?"), but she is often understandable in her opinions and attitudes. With her well-meaning but often oblivious husband Louis balancing an already-taxed treasury with the wants, demands, and rights of the people he rules by divine right, Marie and her coterie of noble ladies find themselves skewered by cartoonists, and resented for the life of grand palaces and sumptuous gowns they use once and discard, despite the Queen's good intentions.

Louis plays a larger role in the second novel than he did in the first; the King is much more directly involved with the plotline of this novel than the previous. More peripheral in the introduction of the series, here in part two, now, married and reigning as King, this Louis indulges his wife's flights of fancy, and spending as a concession to make up for the lack of intimacy and input he offers her in their private life. With the Queens of France traditionally have prestige but no real governing power, Louis is very Gallic and rigid in his role, a devoted adherent to the traditions his wife so dislikes. Louis is a good foil for his spendthrift femme; often shown trying to reign in the out-of-control treasury, his royal brother's profligate attitudes about women and coin, to little or no avail. He is not developed as Marie, but he is shown in realistic views - and Grey even tries to rectify his reasons for a lack of a royal heir (for seven years after marriage!) with a possible, plausible medical condition. His (unknown?) rival for Marie's affections in the Swedish Count of Axel von Fersen adds even more intensity and tension to a novel thick with conflict. Though there is a love-triangle of sorts in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, Juliet Grey is able to pull it off with aplomb, without making it halt the plot's momentum or the characters involved tiresome. Each man appeals to a different side of the complicated Queen, and though she may be more her father's daughter than she thought to be, Marie's attractions to both came off as authentic - as did her actions.

For the most part, I thought that first-person POV was an excellent choice to showcase the plot and varied characters of this story. It allows for a closer view of Marie and how she works internally, and reading Marie's well-intentioned inner monologue helps to firmly create the three-dimensional version of the character. It is easy for feel for the entitled Queen, even as she haplessly carries herself and her friends toward a grisly end. With factions all around her vying for favor (Polignac vs. Lamballe, etc) even among her dearest friends, Marie Antoinette is a commodity, a property, to be used and controlled for position, power, and money. Her narration helps humanize her and separate this version from the historical, as even her own family-in-law undermines her with the people. The only places the narrative stumbled for me were the thankfully rare occasions that abruptly jumped to third-person narration - like Emperor Joseph's meeting with du Barry, or Jeanne de Lamotte's cunning deception of the Grand Almoner, Rohan. A nice flow, and even pacing across long periods of time, coincide with the well-chosen point-of-view, and all add up to a thoroughly enjoyable, eminently readable historical fiction novel.

Juliet Grey ably paints a vivid, frenzied look at Marie's troubled, occasionally vapid existence of self-interest and whim. Between the constraint of etiquette steeped in outlandish traditions and little privacy that she found so oppressive, and Marie's subsequent alienation of certain powerful nobles, and with the French-monarchy-supported American Revolution giving the French people new ideas, wants and seeding deep doubts about the right of divine rule, the foreshadowing is subtly woven into the novel and reminds readers of the royal family's ultimate fate while still leaving them wanting more. A fully realized scenario of the French country and economy as it stood in Louis XIV's reign, the atmosphere of Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow grows ever bleaker and more ominous with her chapter. It's a hard to put down book, but one that is easy to involve yourself with the goings-on even as that fateful day in October looms ever closer.

Juliet Grey delivers a solid, engrossing, completely entertaining sequel. One that is filled with fleshed-out versions of the historical personages known so well, even into the modern age. Not mere stereotypes or villains, but real, plausible renderings of people who have left a mark on history. What Becoming Marie Antoinette started, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow ably continues - a tradition of well-written, thoroughly detailed, engrossing historical fiction novels centered on one of the most interesting times and people in history. I personally cannot wait to see how this talented author will chose to recreate the last years of Marie Antoinette's life, and the fall of the Bourbon dynasty to the French Revolution with the trilogy's conclusion, The Last October Sky. ( )
  msjessie | Feb 4, 2013 |
Juliet Grey continues the saga of Marie Antoinette in her second volume. Covering the years between her ascent to the throne and the beginning of the French Revolution. Spanning fifteen years, readers explore the French Court through the eyes of its infamous queen. Grey focuses the full life of Marie Antoinette, from her everyday life to the momentous events that shaped the Queen and the Court.

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow really captures the spirit of Marie Antoinette. The author does a great job in creating a feeling of kindrenship between the reader and Marie Antoinette. I enjoyed her spunky nature and passive aggressive rebellion. I loved watching the Queen develop from a shy girl to a Queen with feelings, heartbreak and love for her husband and adopted country. As the years become harder and harder on the pretty Queen, I find my heart breaking for her as she recklessly spends enormous sums on gambling, clothes and presents to soothe her fears and heartbreak. Once Marie's greatest dreams of having children are fulfilled, I was amazed at what a great mother she was.
Grey recreates the French Court with ease, accurately portraying the Queen, King and it's players. Staying true to history, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow stays true to history, including with accurate detail actual historical events and conversations. This really makes Grey's Marie shine. I have always felt that Marie was unfairly blamed for causing the Revolution with her reckless spending, but Grey gives the reader the whole picture, showing the lack of competence in the Government, and Marie's lack of influence over policy and politics. The book also accurately shows the French Aristocracy's views on unlimited money, power and play.
Readers should start with the first book in the trilogy, Becoming Marie Antoinette. This will allow the reader to seamlessly transition into Archduchess to Dauphin. I am anxiously awaiting the 2013 release of the final book, The Last October Sky. Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is an amazing read on the misaligned Queen. ( )
  allisonmacias | Oct 26, 2012 |
The second novel in Juliet Grey's trilogy about the French queen Marie Antoinette picks up where the previous novel ended and opens with Marie Antoinette's early days as the Queen of France and ends just as the French Revolution begins in earnest. The real triumph of this novel is that it does not become boring, even as the author goes into the details about Marie Antoinette's dealings with her dressmaker and hairdresser. In addition, the author does a remarkable job of telling the tale of the Diamond Necklace Affair, bringing each of the characters' traits and personalities into focus. As the novel concludes and France is set on the road to revolution, I found myself feeling sorry for Marie Antoinette. She clearly was not cut out for the role she was called upon to play, making her a tragic figure on the stage of history. A good read for fans of historical fiction! ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Jul 29, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345523881, Paperback)

A captivating novel of rich spectacle and royal scandal, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow spans fifteen years in the fateful reign of Marie Antoinette, France’s most legendary and notorious queen.

Paris, 1774. At the tender age of eighteen, Marie Antoinette ascends to the French throne alongside her husband, Louis XVI. But behind the extravagance of the young queen’s elaborate silk gowns and dizzyingly high coiffures, she harbors deeper fears for her future and that of the Bourbon dynasty.

From the early growing pains of marriage to the joy of conceiving a child, from her passion for Swedish military attaché Axel von Fersen to the devastating Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Marie Antoinette tries to rise above the gossip and rivalries that encircle her. But as revolution blossoms in America, a much larger threat looms beyond the gilded gates of Versailles—one that could sweep away the French monarchy forever.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:51 -0400)

A captivating Parisian novel of rich spectacle and royal scandal that spans 15 years in the fateful reign of Marie Antoinette, France's most legendary and notorious queen.

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