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Apr 12, 2010

Book Review: The Queen's Dollmaker by Christine Trent

The Queen's Dollmaker by Christine Trent
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Kensington; Original edition (January 1, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0758238573
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:Four big stars!

"On the brink of revolution, with a tide of hate turned against the decadent royal court, France is in turmoil - as is the life of one young woman forced to leave her beloved Paris. After a fire destroys her home and family, Claudette Laurent is struggling to survive in London. But one precious gift remains: her talent for creating exquisite dolls that Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France herself, cherishes. When the Queen requests a meeting, Claudette seizes the opportunity to promote her business, and to return home...Amid the violence and unrest, Claudette befriends the Queen, who bears no resemblance to the figurehead rapidly becoming the scapegoat of the Revolution. But when Claudette herself is lured into a web of deadly political intrigue, it becomes clear that friendship with France's most despised woman has grim consequences. Now, overshadowed by the spectre of Madame Guillotine, the Queen's dollmaker will face the ultimate test."

Christine Trent's debut novel offers promises of many more intriguing stories to come, and she has easily gained many fans, including myself, who have now read The Queen's Dollmaker. This novel features a young woman who faces severe and sudden hardships and is forced to leave her native France and sail to England. At the same time, the narration switches to Marie Antoinette who has troubles of her own, concerning her husband and the country she is the new Queen of.

This is my first official read of Marie Antoinette, fictional or otherwise, although I have collected quite a few books on the Queen I have not actually had one land in my review pile. I have acquired a keen sense of Marie Antoinette through Internet exploration, and I find the subject of the monarchy's dissolution and the fate of her children fascinating, and heart breaking. I have a beautiful pendant of a young Marie Antoinette that I wear occasionally as well. Congratulations to Christine Trent for being the first author to actually get me to sit down and read a full novel that includes Marie Antoinette, and my apologies for taking this long to get to it. I mention all this so my readers would know my position on this as my first fictional Marie Antoinette-related story.

The fact that Claudette Laurent gets on a ship to England because she can't find her betrothed in a day was grating on my sensibilities, but she was just sixteen and had nowhere to go, and probably felt at a loss as well as being in a state of shock after losing both of her parents tragically. She befriends a girl named Beatrice while on this same ship together and forms a lasting friendship with her and Beatrice's daughter. Intermittently, narration on Marie Antoinette's side of things slice in and out throughout this story, as Claudette's fortunes rise in England as she makes a life for herself, while back in France the Queen is suffering at the hands of the revolution. Sadly, through this telling, Queen Marie Antoinette seems oblivious to the dangers just as Claudette is naive in some aspects.

Claudette's character evolved as she grew up and matured so that she became very likable. Claudette's first job as a maid in a haughty woman's house was quite humorous and I enjoyed the mishaps that followed Claudette. Eventually she storms out of the house in a grand girl-power moment, and it was a highlight for her character. Operating her own doll shop without the aid of others was a great feat, especially since her superb workmanship became noticed by royalty. Soon, Queen Marie Antoinette ordered dolls from Claudette, which required her to return to France. She does find her betrothed Jean Phillippe again, and Claudette becomes torn between her two worlds of a prosperous England and the memories of her life in France. She has a magnificent new suitor in England, but will that be enough for Claudette?

And just when you think that's all there is to the story, Claudette soon finds herself trapped in France and without any justice. Will it be a Jean-Phillippe from her childhood to rescue her, or the gallant William from across the channel? Will both Queen Marie Antoinette and Claudette face the same tragic demise?

I found the storyline to be fast-paced and rhythmic enough to hold my interest while I was intrigued with the characters and their development. It was both plot and character driven, and I cared for the main characters throughout the story. It was not drowning in historical facts or details but was pleasing enough as the author deftly changed the setting from one country to the other. The scenic details impressed me more in the beginning of the novel in France when the descriptions of the fire occurred, and then later on when Claudette was in France again. The actual Marie Antoinette plot was not overly dramatic and was pretty much a side story inserted to help dramatize the political upheaval, allowing Claudette to steal the show as the story's heroine. Later on as Marie Antoinette's story comes to a conclusion, there was more of her featured. I found this to be a solid debut historical fiction novel for Christine Trent that I would not hesitate to recommend and I look forward to more from her.

Christine Trent's The Wax Apprentice is coming December 28, 2010 from Kensington Books and we are honored at the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table to feature the novel for our December event!

See another review at or Historically Obsessed or Enchanted By Josephine