Click here to read reviewer Crystal Jones's take on The Queen's Dollmaker.
From 1775 France, when five-year-old Claudette Laurent meets a newly arriving Marie Antoinette on the road to Paris, until 1781, when Claudette is released from a Paris prison after the people’s Revolution, Trent ties the history of the young daughter of a dollmaker to the drama of the French Revolution and the fate of Marie Antoinette, who ultimately loses her head to the crowd.
Trained at her father’s side in the family shop, Claudette’s future is assured, her craft and her love for playmate Jean-Philippe since childhood. But when a tragic fire consumes the shop and her parents die soon after, Claudette finds herself on a ship bound for England with no way to pay the benefactor who has financed the voyage. Barely escaping the evil plans of this opportunistic man, Claudette finds work as a maid along with her friend from the voyage, Beatrice du Georges, and Beatrice’s daughter, Marguerite.
Trent’s tale takes on Dickensian tones as Claudette struggles in London, the two friends barely surviving the cruelty of their employer, Claudette determined to establish her own small doll shop, saving every penny she can. When pursued by a handsome gentleman, Claudette resists, unable to believe his interest is honorable.
As Marie Antoinette becomes queen of France, her extravagances outraging and impoverished public, Claudette’s fortunes change as well. Hard work and enterprise allow her a successful shop where her dolls become the rage of the wealthy. Love is on the horizon as well, but haunted by the past, this is a hurdle Claudette must meet when none other than Marie Antoinette requests her presence and her creations. An audience with the queen is followed by an audience with a man obsessed with the beauty from his youth.
Twining the history of the two women, queen and artist, Trent offers a detailed view of pre-revolutionary Paris, a heedless queen, and the renewed interest of Claudette’s childhood love, Jean-Philippe, who remains adamant that she still belongs to him. Returning to Paris, Claudette finds herself in great danger as revolution sweeps through the country and her former lover wields the reins of power. The Paris of her childhood is unrecognizable, the love of her youth a monster who will use any means to control her.
Historically accurate, albeit tending toward the melodramatic, Claudette’s story is of the helpless female between two men, a foolish artist so wrapped up in her craft that she ignores the warnings of a city in turmoil. As might be expected, love conquers all in the end, and Claudette finds that while her history is in Paris, her heart is in London.