Last summer, I loved Diana Giovinazzo‘s debut novel, The Woman in Red, and I’ve been anticipating her second book ever since. In January, she released her new historical fiction, Antoinette’s Sister. Although I won it in a giveaway in December (yay!), my book didn’t arrive until February (sad!)… But no matter – I’ve finally gotten to read it and I adored it!
Special thanks to Goodreads and Grand Central Publishing for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!
We all know of Marie Antoinette, the Hapsburg daughter who went on to be France’s last queen before being executed. In Antoinette’s Sister, we get to know her older sister, Maria Carolina Charlotte. At the tender age of 15, Charlotte is forced to leave her home in Vienna to marry Ferdinand I in Naples. Together, they will rule as the king and queen of Naples and Sicily, though it’s quickly clear that Ferdinand is not the kingly sort. Not only does he not want to be king, he doesn’t have the political or economic knowledge that would make him good in the role. Charlotte, on the other hand, has been raised to be queen, and she’s ready to take charge of her new country. We follow her though her life as a queen and ruler, as a wife and mother, and as a sister who can’t save her beloved Marie Antoinette.
Like Diana Giovinazzo’s first novel, Antoinette’s Sister highlights a historical figure who is important in her own right, though less famous than someone else to whom she’s closely connected. In both cases, I have found it fascinating to learn about lesser known people of the past. As we see here, Charlotte’s life proves to be very different from Antoinette’s… and yet also undeniably similar.
Right away, I connected with the sister aspect of this novel. I’m close to my younger sister, and enjoyed seeing the sisterly bond between Charlotte and Antoinette – separated by three years yet raised almost as twins. They get up to mischief together as children and confide in each other as adults, and though they will never see each other in their adult lives, through their letters, they remain as close as ever. Where Antoinette is a bit frivolous and naive, Charlotte is focused and sharp-witted. Where Antoinette is hated by her French citizens, Charlotte becomes a beloved queen in Naples. Even with these differences, the two sisters remain devoted to each other, and Charlotte is determined to save Antoinette from execution, even if it means losing everything.
Beyond the sisterly bond, I also grew to love Charlotte as her own character. She is an incredible woman who overcomes many hurdles, and her take-charge attitude can be seen as inspirational even to this day. In Antoinette’s Sister, we see how this woman in the 1700s is able to become a strong yet caring ruler. She works hard to gain control from men who would destroy the country, and she does what she can to make improvements to the land and for the people. She’s politically savvy, knows her history, and is a keen judge of character.
In contrast, her husband, King Ferdinand I, is simply not kingly. He prefers playing games and hunting to ruling; he’s not well-educated, is easily manipulated by others, and is rather immature. To his credit, though, he quickly grows to trust and respect Charlotte, happily letting her do most of the ruling. He’s a kind husband and a doting father, and like his wife, he truly cares about his citizens. I love that he supports a universal basic income (he was ahead of the curve there!); it’s also sweet how much he’s into volcanoes.
While Charlotte is being an awesome queen, the book also places more and more attention on Antoinette leading up to her execution. Her siblings do what they can to quell discontent in France and, later, to help Antoinette escape, but we know it will turn into a bitter end. This novel renewed my sadness over Marie Antoinette (whom I read a lot about when I was younger). She’s a complicated figure, to be sure, and far from perfect. But here, we see her in a sympathetic light, and it’s evident that, like Ferdinand, maybe she simply wasn’t fit to be queen. She was doomed from the start, and I could feel Charlotte’s anguish at not being able to rescue her sister.
While I admire Charlotte in many ways, I can’t say I agree with her views on democracy vs. the monarchy. So while I was rooting for her (and Antoinette) in many ways, I also couldn’t fully get behind their vision for “progress” and the Hapsburg family’s place as rulers going forward.
Amidst all the chapters, we also get letters between Charlotte and a few other people: Antoinette, their brother Leopold, their mother Theresa, and a few others. The letters generally were not chronological or lined up with the events of the chapters. Rather, they were largely out of order, but often foreshadowed a theme that would arise in the next chapter. These letters brought the family relationships to life in a unique and immersive way.
Antoinette’s Sister is a sweeping view of Charlotte’s life, from her childhood until her death. While I loved most of it, it did fizzle out a bit at the very end. I appreciate the full account we get of Charlotte, though ending it sooner may have kept it stronger and more engaging, even if it would have missed some late events that bring some things full circle. Nonetheless, this did not detract from my love of the novel.
Antoinette’s Sister is a compelling yet easy-to-read novel about a remarkable historical figure, her leadership in Naples and Sicily, and her dynamic relationships with those closest to her. It’s beautifully written and inspiring. I am officially a fan of Diana Giovinazzo, and I can’t wait to read whatever she offers next.
Also: Shoutout to the Mozart siblings! I recently read The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu, about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s older sister, Nannerl. That book mentioned the Hapsburgs and Wolfgang’s childhood proposal to Antoinette; this book also mentioned it. I loved that connection!
Get the Book
You can buy Antoinette’s Sister here – it’s available as a hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
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|Antoinette’s Sister by Diana Giovinazzo|
|Number of Pages||380|
|Format I Read||Hardcover|
|Original Publication Date||January 11, 2022|
As Marie Antoinette took her last breath as Queen of France in Paris, another formidable monarch—Antoinette’s dearly beloved sister, Charlotte—was hundreds of miles away, in Naples, fighting desperately to secure her release from the revolutionaries who would take her life. Little did Charlotte know, however, that her sister’s execution would change the course of history—and bring about the end of her own empire.
“You are the queen. You are the queen that Antoinette wanted to be.”
Austria 1767: Maria Carolina Charlotte—tenth daughter and one of sixteen children of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria—knows her position as a Habsburg archduchess will inevitably force her to leave her home, her family, and her cherished sister, Antoinette, whose companionship she values over all else. But not yet. The Habsburg family is celebrating a great triumph: Charlotte’s older sister, Josepha, has been promised to King Ferdinand IV of Naples and will soon take her place as queen. Before she can journey to her new home, however, tragedy strikes. After visiting the family crypt, Josepha contracts smallpox and dies. Shocked, Charlotte is forced to face an unthinkable new reality: she must now marry Ferdinand in her sister’s stead.
Bereft and alone, Charlotte finds that her life in Naples is more complicated than she could ever have imagined. Ferdinand is weak and feckless, and a disastrous wedding night plunges her into despair. Her husband’s regent, Tanucci, a controlling and power-hungry man, has pushed the country to the brink of ruin. Overwhelmed, she asks her brother Leopold, now the Holy Roman Emperor, to send help—which he does in the form of John Acton, a handsome military man twenty years Charlotte’s senior who is tasked with overseeing the Navy. Now, Charlotte must gather the strength to do what her mother did before her: take control of a country.
In a time of political uprisings and royal executions and with the increasingly desperate crisis her favorite sister, Queen Marie Antoinette, is facing in France, how is a young monarch to keep hold of everything—and everyone—she loves? Find out in this sweeping, luxurious tale of family, court intrigue, and power.
About the Author
Diana Giovinazzo is the co-creator of Wine, Women and Words, a weekly literary podcast featuring interviews with authors over a glass of wine. Diana is active within her local literary community as the vice president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. The Woman in Red is her debut novel.