28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Christine Trent's new historical novel titled The Queen's Dollmaker is the delightful story of one 18th century young woman's struggle for survival after a devastating Paris fire brings death to her family, leaving her home & father's workshop in ashes and ruin. Claudette Laurent is the daughter of an esteemed doll maker, a craftsman who created the most sought after finely detailed fashion dolls that every moneyed Parisian family coveted to delight and fancy their little girls with.
The terrifying inferno that stripped Claudette of her parents, leaves her fleeing France in the middle of the night and boarding ship to London as she is offered a way out of a future of prostitution, or the life of a street beggar. Crowded aboard ship with other girls her age, they are swept up bound for England and to be sold off to the London aristocracy as servants to earn their keep. Life scouring pots and scrubbing laundry after her gentle past-life of doll maker's apprentice, is not what Claudette has in mind. High in the attic of Lady Asby's estate, Claudette counts her pennies, stashing them away for an eventual escape out of hell. In her spare time, Claudette lifts scraps of wood and snips of fabric from the household trash, and in her secret attic hide-away, starts creating simple play dolls to be sold at the local marketplace. Finding her endeavors successful, she continues to hoard her earnings, saving for the day she can leave a life of servitude and rebuild her father's dream of being the finest doll maker in Europe. Inch by inch we watch Claudette become a woman with a mission. Readers will cheer her on, and delight in the innovative ideas that have her winning the hearts of London's finest, as her dolls become more and more exquisite, bringing riches beyond her imagination. Hard work soon pays off as Claudette and her friends open a meager store-front and begin to sell doll after doll after doll, each one unique in it's making, putting smiles on many a London face.
Before she can catch her breath with her newfound independence and wealth, she catches the eye of a London gentleman who courts her into a world of sweet and tender love. Added to her new treasure chest of good fortune, Claudette lands the commission of all dreams, to design a grand masterpiece doll for none other than France's spoiled Queen, Marie Antoinette. The Queen's Dollmaker is a coming of age story of a young girl who grows up quickly amidst court intrigue of both England and France. It is the tale of a young woman's fierce pride, determination, and love of her craft to the point of passionate obsession. This book slowly unravels Claudette's strength along a rocky road to success, independence, entrepreneurship, and love, during the horrors of the French Revolution. In addition to the main story of Claudette's world of dolls, the reader gets a brief education of the lives of Marie Antoinette and King Louis as their lives crash and fall during the reign of terror. Christine Trent shows great talent in this fine historical novel. Her writing style is polished, with dialog and storyline outstanding. I really enjoyed learning about the craft of Parisian doll making and give the author two thumbs up for creativity. Bravo for a wonderful entertaining story that will be followed up by a sequel soon.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The Queen's Dollmaker was a good book until I got about halfway through it and it started to just compress a lot of different story lines together. The book would have been better if it had just focused on the dollmaker and less on the queen's downfall, because it seemed like two totally different books that were merged together to create one storyline.
It was a free Kindle download, so not bad.
24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2010
Am I the only one who noticed that at the beginning of the book, the main character was 5. Then, 16 years into the future, when the fire happens, she's only 16? I finally gave up on this book after 3 chapters, it was not worth my time. The author, and the editors, missed something as simple as continuity in the main character's age. Add to that the horrendous research the author did on that time period. I mean, seriously, someone of that class being able to read and also speak English. Yeah, yeah, her mom was English, but still unrealistic. Not to mention the walks she and her first boy took around Paris. If the author knew anything about the history of Paris, she would know that until the mid-to-late-19th Century, Parisians barely traveled more that 3 blocks from their home. Lower class people definitely weren't traveling to the Jardin Tuilleries on afternoon walks. They would never have had time. I can't stand historical books that have facts so blatantly wrong. If you're going to write it, take the time to research it. I recommend against reading this book. Sorry.
18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2009
Paris 1765 Claudette Renee Laurient, daughter of a well known French doll maker suffered the tragic loss of her parents during a devastating fire. The fire not only took her parents but her home, her fathers doll shop, and her child hood sweetheart. Having nowhere to go she haphazardly wandered aimlessly looking for a hint of a recognizable face. Sweetheart Jean-Philippe and his family were nowhere to be found but maybe they had fled by boat. At the ship docks there was no sign of him or his family but she did cross another mans path. The man was seeking eligible women who wanted to work in England. Other elegant women waiting patiently to board and Claudette decided to take a chance and set sail across the channel.
Aboard she would befriend her life long best friend Beatrice. She had a timid personality and was more than likely because of the loss of her husband. Beatrice did have little Marguerite her shining star. A vibrant young child who was instantly drawn to Claudette. Besides meeting Beatrice she also met and befriended Lizbit. A loud fashionably dressed woman who I found myself imagining her talking wildly with her hands as she told lavish tales of her travels abroad. Prior to their arrival the men on board demanded that they all sign a document and Claudette being one of the few who could read realized they wanted to take almost half of her earned wages. My favorite part of the arrival was when all the women were all paraded out on the docks while future "employers" looked eagerly at them. Leave it to Lizbit to sound the alarm with "Ladies they mean to spoil your virtue"! Women scattered, yelling while Claudette and her new friends made a break for it. The recruiters hench men ran after them nipping at their heels. Luckily they out maneuvered the men and lost them.
With no where to go the two women and the child went to the church for help while Lizbit returned home to her rich aunt. Forced by hunger and lack of shelter the women went into the service of a nasty social climber Maude Ashby. Forever wishing to raise her families status she was an in home tyrant. Not to mention that the other servants would not mingle with the French girls and there was a deep animosity between them. Claudette had no other choice but to find the means to leave the oppressive tyrants home. The idea occurred to her why not make her own dolls? She was after all her fathers apprentice. Luckily in her escape from Paris she was able to salvage some items from the doll shop. With the help from her loyal friends and a few others seeking to better their lives she was able to make a dramatic exit from Maude Ashby's service and move up in status to become a tradeswoman.
Claudette was a rags to riches kind of girl with one exception, she made her own riches. Her talent and handy work spoke for themselves. She became successful in her own right. She was obviously lacking in the love department. I found Claudette's antics amusing. The longing for her lost love in Paris had faded over time and the handsome lord William Greycliffe "occupied a small portion of her heart she did not want him to have". She had first met him in her service days at the Ashby's home. Later her hopes were destroyed when she discovered he was married, but somethings do not last forever.
Pouring her heart and soul into creating intricately beautiful French dolls. Eventually caught the eye of the glittering queen of France, Marie Antoinette herself. The queen requested Claudette to pay a visit to the French court. Upon her arrival she was stunned and overjoyed to be reunited with her childhood sweetheart Jean-Philippe. Jean had entered the guard service for the queen and she was presented to the queen by him. Marie Antoinette had called upon her to make a special doll, one to be made like no other. Made with the exact likeness of the queens notorious favorite the beautiful Princesse de Lambelle.
At the queens request Claudette's every waking thought was about the "Lambelle doll". Her loyalty to the queen was unwavering in a time when the queens "frivolous" ways were severely scrutinized. Claudette found herself at one point torn between England and France. William or Jean? Both men loved her, but where was home and her heart? Her choice could affect so many that there was bound to be someone left disgruntled. Approaching the dangerous times of the French revolution her loyalties to the queen could put her in a perilous situation. Claudette could easily be swallowed up by the whirling vortex of chaos and terror that had taken full grip on all of France. Or could England become her safe haven?
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2010
Claudette Laurent is a young French woman who moves to England after a fire destroys her home in France, and sets up shop in London as a dollmaker. Her fashion dolls become the toast of British and French society, and she eventually becomes the official doll maker to the glamorous Queen of France, Marie Antoinette.
But before Claudette can gain the independence necessary to set her career plans in motion and become a successful dollmaker, she gains employment in England as a maid in the household of the Ashby family. There she finds few friends, as the current staff dislikes her without even giving her a chance, simply because of their preconceived negative opinions about the French. Claudette receives no respite from Mrs. Ashby, who is a social-climbing, arrogant and condescending woman who doesn't give poor Claudette a moment's peace. It is at one of Mrs. Ashby's parties where Claudette meets William Greycliffe, a handsome man who Claudette at first finds unbearable, but secretly harbors romantic feelings towards. Claudette feels conflicted about these emotions, as she longs to once again see her childhood sweetheart Jean Phillippe, from whom she was separated during the fire back in Paris. Throughout the novel, Claudette goes back and forth wondering which path in life she is truly meant to take: the one here in England with William, or the one waiting for her in Paris with Jean-Philippe. As her star rises in London and her creations gain more popularity, so too does her friendship with the Queen of France. However, she eventually makes her way to Paris on one of her visits to the Queen only to find that the French Revolution is in full swing and that Paris is a city entirely different from the one she left behind years ago.
Historically back in the 18th century, dressmakers used to use fashion dolls to demonstrate their work to their customers. Empress Maria Theresa also used to send her daughter Marie Antoinette the fashion dolls as examples of what was stylish at the Viennese court, so that she could replicate the styles in France. The Queen's Dollmaker is a really interesting and well-imagined story, and I gobbled it up in two days. The aspect I enjoyed most about this book was its characters. I found myself adoring Claudette, who is confident, sharp, and funny. Over the course of the book we see Claudette mature from the time she is a young girl and loses everything in a fire in France to the time she is old enough to become a successful business woman in London, which gives us the ability to see this character really develop as she comes into her own. She is a fiery and spirited young woman with a sharp tongue, and I couldn't help but laugh at some of her humorous retorts to reprimands from her less-than pleasant employers. Claudette is a fun and witty protagonist to guide you through her 18th century realm.
In between most of the chapters telling Claudette's story, the author provided shorter chapters giving detailed glimpses into the goings-on of the French court and turmoil happening in Paris at the point in history where the novel is taking place. I think Christine Trent (who is herself such a doll) has done a wonderful job with using this format; it is almost like getting a brief history lesson in between the telling of Claudette's tale, which puts Claudette's story in greater historical context.
I really enjoyed reading such a fresh premise for a novel taking place during the French Revolution. The storyline is dramatic yet plausible and it allowed me to view the Terror and the fall of the French monarchy through a completely different lens. It was also delightfully entertaining to learn all the details of 18th century doll-making. I'd highly recommend this fast paced page-turner to anyone looking to read historical fiction that offers a new perspective on 18th century England and France!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2010
Claudette Laurent, daughter of a prestigious dollmaker in Paris, loses everything to a devastating fire and must begin a new life. In a strange turn of events, she finds herself in London, first supporting herself as a lady's maid and ultimately finding a way to use the talents her father bequeathed to her: that of carving, painting and dressing dolls in the latest fashions.
Though she has a few close friends and helpers, Claudette mostly keeps to herself, nursing the loss of her old life and love in France. One gentleman vies for her attentions, but she continually spurns him, as he is of higher rank and she feels he is toying with her. Throughout the story, the theme of one's place in society is very apparent, as are the sufferings and angry voices of the coming French Revolution.
Despite the title of the book, being Marie Antoinette's personal dollmaker is not the premise of the story. While Claudette does work on some commissions from her, and eventually meets the queen in the final years of the monarchy, most of the novel takes place in England. The author switches narration as the story builds and this is how the readers witness the revolution. Claudette does, near the later part of the book, find herself in intrigues on the `losing' side and I was unable to put the book down during this part and all the way to the end.
My first impression of this book was that there was not enough background on the main character and her early family life. I was not able to grasp her reasoning, level of maturity and the general make-up of her character. I think if there were more details added on the art of dollmaking in the beginning -with her father- it would have resolved the feeling of being thrown into the story too quickly (slow and steady wins the race!) Her mother educated her in two languages, though what we see of her is a dim-witted, scared puppy of a woman who put her only child in danger by dragging her into the fire's path to find her husband, who was valiantly, though perhaps stupidly, trying to put out the fire consuming the entire street. He, too, I felt should have put his family first and foremost (yes, even before their home and livelihood, but perhaps this is the mother in me). And so, my first impression was not great, though I knew the story had potential.
Once Claudette came into her own (her trade) and restarted her life, I was completely absorbed with the dollmaking, her business ventures and the characters, old and new, as well as the flipping back and forth between Marie Antoinette's life and Claudette's, just waiting for the time of their meeting and this climax that I could feel coming. If The Queen's Dollmaker gives the impression of a rocky start, as it did with me, please give it a chance. You won't be sorry!
One interesting side story included in this novel is the elaboration of the `Diamond Necklace Affair' of which I have read extensively, even an entire novel based around the conspiracy called The Queen of Diamonds by Jean Plaidy. Christine Trent's version is exceedingly accurate and the details infallible, though leaving out the Marie Antoinette look-a-like, who was a prostitute named Nicole Leguay d'Oliva and played the role of tricking the cardinal into thinking he was welcomed into the queen's good graces. I only mention this because I was writing an article on it once and searched everywhere for more information on the woman to no avail, and so she sticks in my mind. But, as I said before, The Queen's Dollmaker is historically accurate with all of details of the French Revolution.
As for the dollmaking, this was my first taste of the trade and I found it interesting, as I have with so many other historical novels with characters based around a specific trade (Figures in Silk - silk making, The Venetian Mask - mask making, The Secret of the Glass - glass making, The Serpent Garden - painting miniatures, The Diamond - gem cutting, The Queen's Bastard - horse training, etc.) If you are in the mood for French Revolution fiction and enjoy a strong female protagonist set against near impossible odds, but determined nonetheless, this is the book for you! Christine Trent has produced a fantastic first novel and I will definitely be looking for those to follow!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
The writing is of the this-happened-then-that-happened variety. Characters are as flat as paper dolls. None of them has a convincing personality. The plot relies heavily on coincidence to help move the characters from one situation to another. I wanted very much to like this book because I have enjoyed historical fiction for years, but good historical fiction has to be good fiction as well as good history. This fiction is not done well, it does not enhance the reading experience, it does not evoke any feeling beyond tedium. I kept hoping for a character to come alive on the page, to be someone I could care about. But then I started hoping for the book to end. I have read histories--non-fiction studies--that conveyed more sense of the people and the conditions being written about. This was one book that I was glad to remove from my Kindle because much as I enjoy re-reading most novels, I doubt that I ever will want to re-read The Queen's Dollmaker.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2012
First let me say, based on the cover, I thought this would be a trashy romance novel. Take that whichever way you want, BUT, this is not what it seems. There are elements of an interesting romance, but beyond a few kisses, the emotions of the characters are complex and there are no heaving bosoms or swollen members.
The character development here is done well; I primarily enjoy books with strongly written characters, and to me this can excuse poorer plots, and I also love any type of media with a strong female lead. I did enjoy Claudette's story very much, and while I found the sections about Marie Antoinette a bit boring, it was interesting to see how the two stories dove-tailed in the end.
I did not find the writing style to be poor. It's certainly not magical and lyrical prose, but it is very clear and descriptive. If you like books that describe what life was like 'back then', you will like this.
I give this four stars just because I felt the book dragged for most of the sections based on the life of Marie Antoinette. Perhaps because it was less personal than the rest of the novel? I would have liked to see more of the world through Marie's eyes, even if it was invented.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2010
"The Queen's Dollmaker" by fellow Marylander Christine Trent is an engaging novel about a young French craftswoman in the days before and during the French Revolution. Following several tragic incidents, Claudette Laurent, the daughter of a famous Parisian dollmaker, finds herself a penniless orphan in London. Through determination, creativity, and with the help of a colorful set of friends, Claudette struggles to establish herself as an artisan and recreate the masterworks of her father. The craft of dollmaking is at the enchanting center of Trent's novel; at times I felt I was inside of the ballet "La Boutique Fantasque." The descriptions of silk, wax, and wood, of the various types of dolls, of the entire doll making process, are intriguing and demonstrate the whimsical side of the eighteenth century.
As Claudette reaches the height of her career, her dolls come to the attention of Marie-Antoinette, who begins to send her commissions. Ever since a brief childhood meeting with the Queen, Claudette has always been devoted to her and refuses to believe the growing rumors of misbehavior. Occasionally the narrative of the novel gives glimpses of Marie-Antoinette's life. I was personally reminded of the Coppola film, since Marie-Antoinette is shown drinking champagne (in actuality she was a teetotaler) and running off to Petit Trianon to be alone with Count Fersen (of which there is no solid proof.) Louis XVI is depicted as a mindless lump of a man. People who enjoyed the Coppola film will not find such descriptions of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to be problematical. Others, however, might find it annoying.
Although I am no fan of the Coppola film and similar portrayals of the Queen, I was still able to enjoy "The Queen's Dollmaker." Claudette is a heroine of honor and integrity, caught between her admiration for an English gentleman and the memory of a lost love. The novel explores the difference between courtship based on restrained but genuine love, and the lust which destroys even as it seeks to quench desire. There is one explicit scene of an attempted rape which seems to capture the hateful passions that are unleashed by the Revolution. Because of that scene, I would not recommend the book to readers under fourteen or fifteen. However, the obsessive, manipulative behavior of the would-be rapist as compared to the devotion of Claudette's future husband is an excellent reminder for women of all ages of the authentic nature of love.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2010
This novel is a nice escape into 18th century France and England. The author is a good writer and successfully follows the life of a young doll maker, whose parents die in a tragic fire when she was a teenager. She then moves to England and has to find her own way to survive. Trent creates a character with a lot of wit and heart, who is much different than the stereotypical woman of her time. The character has the ability to think on her own, which I very much apprecieated while reading. I really liked reading a historical fiction novel, not only of France, but of England as well. I definately enjoyed the parts of the novel centering around Claudette (the young doll maker) more than the bits about the Queen of France, but even those parts I found to be enjoyable. The author also did a good job separating the two women's stories, so that I wasn't confused when I was transported to the different story. Overall, it was an enjoyable book that allowed me to sit down and relax for a few nights over the last week.