Thursday, September 25, 2014

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund. William Morrow Paperbacks; 2007. 592 pages.

“Like everyone, I am born naked.”

These opening lines provide a captivating beginning to the mesmerizing and tragic life and story of Marie Antoinette.

I, like many others, find there to be something oddly compelling about the monarchs that littered the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. I am also very interested in Marie Antoinette. The origin of my interest in Marie Antoinette may, in fact, stem from the fact that when I was younger I used to play Nancy Drew computer mystery games, and one of the games included a character who was obsessed with Antoinette, which thus sparked my interest after learning a bit about her. (See, computer games can be educational)

I originally picked up this novel with rather low expectations. To clarify, that is not because I felt it was poorly written, for Sena Jeter Naslund is highly praised as a very gifted author, but simply because I am very picky about books when they are based on historical fact. I tend to get bored rather easily, so I figured I would read a few chapters of this book to see if it grabbed my interest, but as I said before, I didn’t have very high expectations. I was shocked when I stopped reading to find that I was already on page 75. When and how did that happen?

This book grabs you. Not in the “fast action-paced what’s-going-to-happen-next” way, but in the use of elegant and precise language that draws you in and just ever so slightly tugs on your curiosity, as if a very light feather is brushing at your arm waiting for you to lunge for it. I can easily understand people being turned off by Naslund’s writing style, however, which is a shame considering how marvelous this book turns out to be.

Abundance follows Marie from the time in her life when she travels to Paris to wed the Dauphin Louis XVI of France to the time of her gruesome death in 1793. This is an incredibly unique and well-crafted story told from the perspective of Marie herself. One reason that I enjoyed this novel so much was because it really gives the reader an inside perspective of the lives of Marie and her husband, the struggles they faced, and they were so shocked by the anger of their people and the revolution that resulted. This story is very sympathetic to Marie, and it is interesting to notice how little Marie thinks of anyone but her, her family, and her friends. She does not do this in a particularly purposeful or vengeful manner, but she simply does not give much thought to the struggles of the people that she rules over, which can turn into quite a problem for a monarch. In fact, the first half of the novel basically revolves around Marie’s anxiety that her husband continuously fails to consummate her marriage. It is quite a relief for Marie, the Paris civilians, and the readers when that finally happens. Another minor but interesting detail for me was reading about the fashions of the time period, such as the great towering headpieces that Marie was so famously known for wearing. Naslund really does an excellent job of focusing the everyday life of Marie; many of the activities that Marie participates in throughout her daily life would typically come across as rather mundane, but Naslund brings beauty and intrigue into everything she writes.

Overall, I truly enjoyed this novel. It was sincerely interesting and entertaining to read, and I was eager to find out what would happen. Even though we all know how this story ends, it still felt extremely tragic and heartbreaking to see Marie’s fate approach, and her strength to stay bold. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling. Harper; 2014. 453 pages

Overall rating: 6/10

The first news I heard about The Queen of the Tearling was that Emma Watson is going to both produce and star in the upcoming Hollywood movie. As a big fan of both Emma Watson and fantasy, this definitely caught my attention. That being said, I was left immensely disappointed upon completion of this novel. After being compared to Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, and Games of Thrones, I was expecting so much more than there ended up being. Now, I never take reviews and blurbs that make those claims too seriously because, really, you just can’t even begin to compare. Especially not to Harry Potter. Anyway, I can definitely see this book being made into a wonderfully exciting movie, but as a book, not so much.

The Queen of the Tearling is set in a post-apocalyptic world and focuses on Kelsea Glynn, a young woman who is heir to the throne of the land of Tearling, but has been raised in seclusion her entire life. The book begins after Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday when she is retrieved by the Queen’s Guard and whisked away to travel back to the crumbling city of Tearling and retake control of the kingdom from her uncle, who had been acting as regent. 

                I would definitely say that this book should be targeted towards young adults and more mature audiences. There is a fair amount of language, dark subject matters, and a fair amount of some rather graphic violence. Now, on to the review!

                As I was reading, I found myself wondering at what point the world/character setup would finish and the meat of the plot would begin; I also realized this when I was more than halfway through the book. The setting of this novel is meant to be in a futuristic dystopian world; it is supposed to be set in futuristic setting that strongly resembles medieval times. I knew about this before I started the book, but I had forgotten by the time I started the novel. I was about halfway through before I realized this, which is an extremely unique and challenging concept to attempt.

                Johansen does a remarkably detailed and intricate job of describing the worlds she creates, as well as creating elaborate histories and backstories for all of her characters. She definitely does not leave any detail untouched, which is really nice for readers who enjoy having a complete history or knowledge of a book’s setting or current political and economic situation. That being said, if you are not someone who likes a vast amount of detail and slow-paced book, then this is likely not going to be the best option.

                Despite the slow-moving qualities of this book, it is surprisingly action-packed, with many fighting and chase sequences that could easily satisfy most action lovers. In spite of this, one large area that I felt this book was rather deficient in was character development. I really did not notice too much change in the characters’ attitudes or personalities. I will say, however, that Kelsea’s confidence throughout the novel does grow stronger, and she does also seem to become a slightly better leader. But for the most part, however, she just appears to bounce onto the scene with an extremely strong and stubborn personality that remains with her throughout the story. I never felt ant strong connection to Kelsea, I just knew that I should be rooting for her to save the day. The supporting cast also stays relatively static throughout the novel as well, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does not particularly lend for exciting characters either.

                A second area in which I feel Johansen did not execute well was her use of multiple POVs. I have always been very picky about the use of multiple POVs; if an author is going to use this technique, they must go all the way and use it extremely carefully. Unfortunately, Johansen did not. The use of multiple POVs was extremely sporadic, and only seemed to be used whenever Johansen felt she needed to add in some backstory information that would help the readers later in the novel. To be completely honest, I groaned inwardly whenever I realized that the next chapter or section was going to be from another POV. None of the characters were overly likeable or relatable, and I just had a hard to really investing myself in the novel.

As I said before, I really do think that this will make a really great and popular movie, especially with Emma Watson as the star. Unfortunately, the book itself lacks a great deal of energy and substance. Overall, I did find it a interesting idea and storyline, but the plot itself could have used better execution. This book left me disappointed and not overly satisfied, but for some reason it has left me curious to see where Johansen is going to go with the rest of this series. I will more than likely give the second book a read when it comes out, because there are many series where the first few books are a bit sluggish to get through. If you enjoy books revolving around strong female leaders, magic, monarchs, strategy, or war, then this book is definitely one that you should check out.