I mentioned in my previous post about the 2006 film, Marie Antionette, that I make an effort to incorporate high quality historical fiction in our homeschool history studies.  The Lacemaker and the Princess is the fourth such book we’ve read this school year.

Plot & Thoughts

In this novel the narrator, Isabelle, serves as our passport in time to the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  Isabelle comes from a family of lacemakers and arrives at the palace one day to deliver a parcel to the Queen’s favorite, the Princess of Lamballe.  After rather awkwardly delivering the package she decides to poke around the palace a bit which affords her a chance meeting with the queen herself, Marie Antoinette.  Marie take Isabelle to meet and play with her daughter, Marie-Therese (referred to as Therese).  This isn’t quite as outlandish as it seems. Historical records show that Marie Antoinette was very anxious that Therese be raised as normally as possible for a royal and often had her play with commoners.  Therese takes a liking to Isabelle and a friendship is forged between the two.

Through this little twist of fate, we are able to both experience palace life and the plight of the commoner via Isabelle.  It’s pretty effective as we can see the humanity of the royals, but also the abject suffering and resulting discontent of the people.  In fact, I’d say the real take-away for Izzy was seeing how very hard people had it at this time.  Of course, learning about the over-the-top opulence of the French court is always fascinating.

This novel is an excellent example of a sub-genre that I’ve labeled ‘functional historical fiction’.    It’s not great literature, but it capably does what it sets out to do – to gently and enjoyable educate a younger audience about a specific historical person and/or era.  As Izzy said, she liked it and she learned a lot from it, but she wouldn’t re-read it.  I’d rate it 3 out of 5 stars.

As I mentioned above, this is the fourth novel of this type that we’ve read this school year.  The first was Queen’s Own Fool by Jane Yolen about the life of Mary, Queen of Scots.  The narrator in this book is actually based on a real life person – one of Mary’s court fools, La Jardiniere.  Much like Marie Antoinette, Mary was a doomed queen who was unable to stay afloat in the shifting tide of her times and I find her life utterly fascinating.  This novel was meticulously researched and almost excessively long and jam packed with historical details.  Much like Lacemaker, I’d say it did a capable job, but it’s not a book I’d ever read again.   I’d rate this one 3 out of 5 stars.

The second and probably most enjoyable was The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn.  This novel is a mystery set in Japan’s Edo Period.  It is chock full of details about life under the Tokugawa Shogunate, but it’s also a truly engaging story.  There are several sequels and I could see picking one of them up in the future.   I’d rate it 4 out of five stars.

The third was titled At the Sign of the Sugared Plum.  It is set during England’s Restoration period and chronicles the 1665 spread of the plague in London.  This one is effective because it is told through the eyes of a teen girl who is a newcomer to England.  She does a great job of describing the sights, sounds, and *smells* of this era.  There is a sequel which tells the story of the Great Fire of London and I’ve often thought about reading it.  I’d rate it 4 out of 5 stars.