This is a fascinating book with an interesting angle on the life of Marie Antoinette, whose relationship with Axel Fersen occupies only a few pages in the majority of biographies. It is frustrating that many primary sources have either been destroyed, altered, or are only partially extant, which forces the author to rely on recreating the most probable scenario on the basis of what material is available, without being able to state the conclusion drawn to be concrete fact. However, as the author points out, more details may one day emerge, and the aim of the book is to redress what the author calls the ‘distorted focus’ of previous biographies, in which he succeeds.
One quibble that I would have is the author’s treatment of Louis XVI, presumably to excuse Marie Antoinette’s supposed affair with Axel Fersen. As Vincent Cronin proves in his ‘Louis and Antoinette’, both the King and the Queen were human beings with faults and good points, the generally accepted very negative portrayal of the King being the result of the self-serving and not necessarily truthful reports of the Comte de Mercy to the Court at Vienna. Whilst I accept that an in-depth study of the King’s character is beyond the scope of the book in question, the consistent denigration of Louis is not only unnecessary and incorrect, but also raises questions as to the author’s objectivity in other areas. Having said this, the arguments relating to the supposedly lengthy affair between Marie Antoinette and Axel Fersen are very persuasive, and I would certainly recommend this book to be read in conjunction witb other works on the period.