Elizabeth Hastings has lost everything: her parents, her fortune, and her chance to marry into a title. When she enters into the service of Princess Victoria, she sees an opportunity to advance her position by gaining the Princess’ trust. Acting as Victoria’s spy, she doesn’t expect to unearth a plot to steal the throne. With the help of a thief and a scoundrel, she might just be able to secure the Princess’ future and her own–or be the cause of its undoing.
This was another refreshingly well-researched and well-written historical YA novel. The story is interspersed with letters and diary entries from both Liza and Victoria. Liza is a fictional character, and as such, her diary entries are of course fictional–but according to the Author’s Note at the back of this book, Victoria’s are actually authentic. Victoria apparently wrote a great deal throughout her lifetime. The author has read her diaries, and because of that she is able to give the Queen a very realistic voice throughout the book.
Many of the events that transpired in the book are also real. It was amazing to see what the author was able to do with some of these events, and learn a lot along the way. I don’t claim to be an expert on any period in history, but I am much more familiar with the Elizabethan period than I am the Victorian one, so it was lovely to learn a thing or two.
As for the characters, I absolutely loved Liza. While she did sit around and feel sorry for herself after the death of her parents, that took place shortly before the book started. She was fully aware of what awaited her on the streets of London if she did not take the job as a maid. She was fully aware that she was in a position to take advantage of the princess, and at first she was not ashamed to take full advantage. Not at all naive, wholly intelligent, cunning, and a little conniving at the start, as her friendship with Victoria developed she realized she wouldn’t ask anything of her. She helps Victoria get her crown and turns down the offer for any reward, which showed remarkable growth. Liza, like the writing itself, was incredibly refreshing.
The portrayal of Princess Victoria appears to be a contention in many reviews. It was somewhat surprising–Victoria is well-known for being well-loved as a Queen. In this book, the Princess is somewhat childish, throws tantrums, and doesn’t realize when she’s hurting others. While many reviewers found this annoying and not true to character, I thought her personality was a direct result of her treatment by her mother. Victoria wasn’t allowed to go out and meet people, she wasn’t ever allowed to be alone, or open her own mail, or even write in her diary without other people reading it. Whether or not this is actually what happened to the real Victoria, it happened to the Victoria in the book, and in my opinion her personality was realistic for the expectations placed upon her. No, it didn’t make me love the character, but again, it allowed room for growth and she redeemed herself at the end.
Really, my only complaint is the horrendous cover! You can’t really tell in the picture above, but it’s all shiny and awful. For a book with Queen Victoria in it, I would expect something that looks a little more historical. The only reason I picked it up in the first place is that it had fallen down on the shelf so the back of the book, which shows the summary in a newspaper-like format, was facing me. The cover of this book doesn’t have the title–I mistook it at first for “A Novel of Intrigue and Romance,” which isn’t as interesting either. Anyway, I’m glad I DID pick up the book, but I have to wonder how many other people are ignoring it because of how it looks on the outside.
What I particularly loved about the book itself was that the romance was downplayed, but still present enough to satisfy most audiences. Liza ended up on more or less equal footing with her romantic interest. There was mystery, history, intrigue, politics–what more could you want?
After finishing this book I rushed off to see if the author had any other books along the same line. She has a few–one about Emily Dickinson, another about Charlotte and Emily Bronte, and a third about Beryl Markham, a pilot. I’ll be checking these out soon.