Sunday, October 2, 2011

Prisoners in the Palace Review

Book talk: A week ago Liza's biggest concern was what dress flattered her figure best as she planned her first season in London with her mother.  Now she is a penniless orphan working as a lady's maid.  It could be worse--at least she is working for princess Victoria.  But for a future Queen, Victoria's palace looks pretty shabby and she hardly has any power.  Her mother treats her as if she is still a child and never allows her to be alone.  She plots with Sir John to take over Victoria's power as a regent and keeps Victoria hidden from view so that people will believe the rumors that she cannot handle the position herself.  Before she knows what's happening Liza finds herself spying for Victoria and making deals with newsmen on fleet street.  Victoria may be Queen some day, but until that day comes she is trapped by her mother--a prisoner in her own palace.

Rocked my socks: Liza was a resourceful, intelligent protagonist and I appreciated that.  She thinks on her feet and she isn't afraid to risk herself for what she thinks is right.  She suffers a huge fall in status but accepts her lot and adapts pretty well.  I enjoyed seeing young Victoria and the intrigue behind the scenes.  At first she behaves in a rather immature and thoughtless manner, but as more was revealed about how she was raised it was easy to understand how she became the way she was and all the more exciting when she found the strength to fight back.  Real excerpts from Victoria's diary (which was reviewed by her mom before she could commit it to ink) and letters from her mother are included throughout the text as well as diary entries from the fictional Liza, which provided a nice balance between fact and fiction.  There were some parts that would have been too outrageous to include if they hadn't been based on historical fact, such as the boy that was found living inside Victoria's nursery at Buckingham Palace (although his presence was moved up earlier to her time at Kensington to fit into the timeline of the novel).  I also enjoyed the purely fictional interludes between Liza and her handsome newspaper contact.  There is an author's note with information on the characters and a list of further reading at the back as well, which I appreciated.

Rocks in my socks: The dialogue felt a bit clunky to me at times ("Miss Elizabeth Hastings, you know I am smitten with you.") and while the narration was smooth in general there points where MacColl took time out to wink at the reader that felt forced (Victoria expresses a dislike for studying Queen Elizabeth and her mother replies "They named an entire age after her...You should be so fortunate!")  The way MacColl represented the dialect of the lower class characters drove me crazy as well.  Even with the same character it was inconsistent.  Sometimes when Nell spoke it was 'your' and sometimes it was 'yer.' MacColl seems interested by strange figures of speech and uses the flash patter slang, but she doesn't have a great ear for pronunciation.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to anyone 6th grade and up who is looking for a good historical romance or anyone with an interest in Queen Victoria.  Be warned, however that the romance is Liza's and not Victoria's.  Anyone looking to swoon over Victoria and Albert will be sorely disappointed.  Fans of the noble woman become destitute only to rise once more to success through hard work and high morals story line (I'm looking at you Jane Eyre and Margaret Hale) will also enjoy this novel.

Buy it or check it out today!

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