Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Ruin a Queen - Nonfiction Review

How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair by Jonathan Beckman

Rating: Good 
Source: NetGalley

Description:  In 1785, a sensational trial began in Paris that would divide the country and captivate Europe. A leading Catholic cardinal and scion of one of the most distinguished families in France stood accused of forging the queen’s signature to obtain the most expensive piece of jewelry in Europe: a 2,800-carat diamond necklace. Where were the diamonds? Was the cardinal innocent? Was, for that matter, the queen? The revelations from the trial would bedevil the French monarchy as the country descended into a bloody revolution.
In How to Ruin a Queen, award-winning author Jonathan Beckman tells of political machinations and enormous extravagance; of kidnappings, prison breaks, and assassination attempts; of hapless French police in disguise, reams of lesbian pornography, and a duel fought with poisoned pigs. It is a detective story, a courtroom drama, a tragicomic farce, and a study of credulity and self-deception in the Age of Enlightenment.

Genre: Nonfiction - History

Why I Picked This Book:  How could I pass up that blurb?  Plus, French history is one of those subjects that I know just enough about to be confused and I'd really like to learn more.

My Impression:  Obviously, I've been aware of Marie Antoinette since I started studying world history in school at some point.  Basically, I knew she was the Queen of France, she lost her head but not before she revolutionized fashion into much simpler styles which seems needed as at the time ladies were wearing bird cages and toy boats on their heads which seems headache inducing.  My first introduction to the diamond necklace affair came through a Nancy Drew computer game I used to play with the kids (which are really fun!  I want to play them again now that I don't have to share with kids who can't solve puzzles quick enough) in which the goal was to locate the diamonds in the famous and notorious diamond necklace.  As for the hows and whys I was still in the dark but I was definitely intrigued.
This book answered some of the questions I had and left me with more but in the best of ways.  I'm fascinated by the necklace and can easily see myself going out and reading everything I can find on the subject and debating answers to questions that will most likely never be answered.  The story itself is fascinating and characters are even more interesting.  There's Marie Antoinette stuck in the precarious position to end all precarious positions, the greedy and scheming Jeanne of royal birth but not wealth and the Catholic cardinal status hungry and lazy golden child of the Rohan family. Beckman gives enough background to make them come to life and to explain how the diamond necklace affair came to be.  While I wouldn't say this is like reading a novel it definitely isn't anywhere near a dry dull textbook.  I enjoyed the fact that Beckman states where his information is coming from and freely admits that some information is unreliable at best.  He includes a detailed cast of characters at the beginning which is helpful and there are also a lot of footnotes to clarify information.  The only negative for me was that I found both of these difficult to benefit from on an ebook.  I think this would read better in a print format.
If you're interested in French history and want to know more about this scandalous necklace and all the intrigue that led up to it this book is an interesting, informative and entertaining read.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: I would - especially if the topic is as scandalous as this one!

Would I Recommend this Book?: I would recommend this to history lovers and nonfiction readers.


  1. I've never heard of this! I mean, the history. It sounds fascinating. I'm glad you enjoyed this. I need to go investigate it.

  2. This sounds like quite a tale.

  3. I'm not a big fan of historical fiction, but that blurb makes me interested in reading this one.

  4. Again I am impressed by your broad reading range. While I don't think I'd read this myself I can see why you'd get hooked into it and then want to read more about it from other sources. Would kind of be addictive. Good point about better in paperback.

  5. I've only been familiar with Marie Antoinette and the necklace from fiction- I think one of Tasha Alexander's mysteries (maybe?) touched on it. But I don't know the historical stuff. I'd like to know more, French history is so fascinating.

    I also do find that due to footnotes and whatnot that reading nonfiction like this often works better for me in print. This would be a good one to have and read in a cozy chair...

  6. I can see why this would be interesting and agree print would be the way to go. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about it!

  7. I would have never even looked twice at this book but the blurb is interesting and review makes me want to read more. Great review!!

  8. Sold! I could live on historical fiction...and cozy mysteries, for quite a long time! :O)

  9. I don't read a lot of non-fiction but this sounds like a really interesting story. Maybe I need to branch out a bit. Great review!

  10. Fantastic. I am a history lover, and this subject is one that I am very much interested in. I recently received a book for review that was about Marie Antoinette, but it was horrible and couldn't finish it. I will have to give this one a try. Thanks you for your review.

  11. I would totally get caught up in this Katherine!