April 22, 2012

Book: The Queen of Diamonds by Jean Plaidy

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:35 am

The subtitle of this book is more interesting – The Sensational Story of Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Scandal‘. This tells one possible scenario of how that could have happened.

First, a little background is in order: The French Revolution was caused by the misery of the French and the simultaneous extravagance of the royalty and the nobility of France. The common people were seething with discontent, and the Royal Family was seen to be doing nothing to alleviate their suffering. One of the main images commonly known is Mary Antoinette’s putative saying, `Let them eat cake’. Students of history know of a mysterious scandal involving the theft of a priceless diamond necklace and the trial of a royal prince Cardinal de Rohan; no one knows for sure the details of the case, and students of history consider it to be an enigma that has not been unravelled. This book tried to give one possible explanation.

This book is not dry history, though; it is a simple story, told with the revolution as simply a backdrop to the story.

Jean Plaidy has written many novels, many of which have the word `Queen‘ in the title (like this one) and which are called the `Queen Series‘. These stories are independent of each other, and do not refer to the same queen either.

For a story written in 1958, this is a really well told story, and what is more astonishing, the language and style feels contemporary; this is a remarkable achievement, if you consider other works of the time.

The story features Illuminati, the secret group made famous by Dan Brown’s 2003 blockbuster, The Davinci Code (Reviewed here earlier).  The story starts with a man posing as the greatest magician ever lived, and terming himself to be Comte de Coliostro (Count of Cogliostro). He is inducted into the illustrious group of the Illuminati, seeking to overthrow monarchies all over the world and choosing France as the first target.

He is to befriend the powerful Cardinal de Rohan, a prince who is out of favour with Marie Antoinette, the new Queen who is from Austria and is very powerful. He proceed to win the Cardinal’s favour by his usual persuasive powers and sleight-of-hand magic tricks, not to mention the gullible throng that believes it has witnessed  the Comte performing “miracles”, making the cripple walk, curing people of disease instantly etc.

When Jeane de la Motte-Valois of the previously-royal Valois family tries to get audience with the Queen to win back the favours of the throne, she becomes an unwitting pawn in the hands of the shadowy group that directs the Count to bring her to the Cardinal’s notice.

Thereby forms the elaborate plan to convince the Cardinal that the Queen is not really upset with him and he can regain his power in the Royal Court and rise to the heights of previous Cardinals like Richelieu and Mazarin before him, who wielded the real power behind the throne.

His ambition blinding him to simple common sense, he becomes unwittingly involved in a dangerous heist concerning a priceless diamond necklace, hatched by Jeanne, her unscrupulous husband de la Motte and an even more unsavoury assistant Retaux, who is not above forgery to convince the Cardinal that he is getting secret letters from the Queen herself.

The story is told well, though at times, it seems terribly simplistic. Once you get past the inadequate explanation of why
Cardinal would fall for so obvious a charlatan like Count of Cogliostro, the story goes well, and gets into a page-turning climax towards the end.

The story ties well with why a simple hoax and the court case that followed it should shake the very foundation of monarchy in France and even precipitate the French Revolution.

The story is a bit weak, the descriptions a little simplistic; the effect often is that of reading a children’s story. But it is a good read, if you can overlook these weaknesses.

The book merits a 5/10

— Krishna


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