Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is book two in Juliet Grey's Marie Antoinette series. I read book one, Becoming Marie Antoinette, last year (my review) and very much enjoyed it, so I was pleased to be offered the chance to review the sequel. Covering the period from Marie's ascension to the throne of France to the beginnings of the revolution, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow plants the seeds of the hardships to come. Young, childless and kept away from the business of state, Marie Antoinette busies herself with parties, gambling and fashion, alienating a population struggling through economic difficulties. Her attempts at gaining privacy offend the noble classes and although her heart is often in the right place, she lacks the common sense a good leader requires. Her joy at finally giving birth to an heir is tempered by gossip and the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, which signals that the population of France is getting ready to challenge the monarchy.
I was very familiar with the history of Marie Antoinette before reading this or its predecessor as I have read and loved Antonia Fraser's biography of her in the past, so I was pleased to see how much Grey stuck to historical fact. As with Becoming Marie Antoinette, the amount of research that had gone into Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, was admirable. I love all of the little details in historical fiction and Grey includes enough of them to make the time period completely and utterly believable. There are never any jarring anachronisms and I enjoyed all the little details about court etiquette and trends. I also enjoyed the letters between Marie and her family members as they broke up the narrative nicely.
The character of Marie Antoinette was drawn well. Grey manages a good balance between making you just sympathetic enough to like her but also showing why France didn't embrace her. Marie comes across as exactly what she was, a young girl out of her depth with black and white morals that didn't translate well to being the Queen of France. She is too easily led and thinks that simplistic gestures like donating a bit of money to charity can cover up her massive expenditure. Grey shows how good intentions aren't always enough and Marie's lack of common sense about her friends and choices ends up starting her ruin.
Despite these strengths, I had some issues with the pacing of the book. It covers many years of Marie Antoinette's life and while the first half had a sedate pace, everything seemed rushed through nearer the end and this imbalance bothered me a bit. There was too much detail about some events and not enough about others. The whole Affair of the Diamond Necklace wasn't explained properly by Grey, which made the sections about it drag a bit. Plus, I wasn't a fan of how suddenly other character's perspectives were included when the rest of the book had been written from Marie Antoinette's point of view. Middle books can always feel a bit slow in places and there was a lot of build up in this novel which I'm sure will pay off in the final volume of the trilogy but which made this volume a bit long and clunky to read.
Overall an enjoyable book, but not quite as good as the first volume, Becoming Marie Antoinette. I'm looking forward to reading the final volume when it's released.
Source: Ebook provided by Historical Fiction Book Tours
First Published: 2012
Score: 3.5 out of 5