Book reviews and random ramblings about literary and historical matters.
Friday, February 18, 2011
What I've Read This Week
What I've Read This Week . . .
Prisoners in the Palace: How Princess Victoria became Queen with the Help of Her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel by Michaela MacColl -- Young Adult Historical Fiction
Liza has lived all over the world with her sauerkraut king father and her German-born mother, but now, it's 1838 and Liza is 17 and ready to make her debut in English Society. Her plans are shattered when her parents are tragically killed in a carriage accident. Liza soon learns even more devastating news: her father died deep in debt. With no family to protect her, Liza must make her own way in the world. She applies for a job as a maid to the Princess Victoria in Kensington Palace but her sassy attitude and smart mouth don't win her any favors. However, Liza's ability to speak German gets her the job. It's not exactly what Liza had in mind, being subjected to the whims and fancies of the teenage princess, the demands of the Duchess of Kent, and trying to avoid the advances of the villainous Sir John Conroy. Not to mention the fact that everyone in the palace seems to want her to spy on someone else! Liza feels trapped inside the palace thanks to Conroy's Kensington System that doesn't let Princess Victoria go anywhere or be by herself for a minute. Liza decides to befriend Princess Victoria, in hopes of what the Princess might do for her some day, but finds herself feeling sorry for the Princess who is a virtual prisoner in her own home. Liza and Victoria, with the help of a mysterious boy and a news sheet publisher, set out to expose Conroy for the villain they know he is; if they can find proof, that is. Liza's relationships with Princess Victoria and a handsome young man help her find her way out of the palace prison. This novel is great fun and filled with the type of historical detail that will please teenage girls. Liza is spunky and spirited, a very modern heroine, who doesn't let anyone dictate her behavior. She's a girl that a modern reader can relate to. Princess Victoria is a more complicated character. At first she's spoiled and bratty and I didn't like her much, but felt intensely sorry for her. Then her fun-loving side came out and she was much easier to sympathize with and finally she matured into the woman who became the longest reigning monarch in British history. The language is very modern and accessible for all readers, especially those who haven't been exposed to period language and the author uses real diary excerpts from Queen Victoria's childhood journals. I didn't feel the romance was very strong. The love interest's character development got lost in a series of letters. That was the only thing I felt could have been better in this great debut novel. The cover is to-die-for amazing, especially the back which features a Victorian era news sheet with articles that reveal tantalizing bits of the plot. I enjoyed this look at Victoria's young adulthood and recommend it to teenage girls, those who have read Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle, A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee and those who may have seen and liked the movie Young Victoria.
Lady Macbeth's Daughter by Lisa Klein -- Young Adult Historical Fiction
This take on Shakespeare's play is told in alternating viewpoints with Grelach, Lady Macbeth and Albia, the daughter, telling the story. Grelach is the granddaughter of a king and expects that her father will inherit one day until her grandfather is murdered and King Duncan puts himself on the throne. Grelach is married off at 13 to a man twice her age, whom she detests. She gives birth to a son, Luoch, whom she also dislikes. When her husband is murdered by Macbeth, Grelach's father forces her to marry Macbeth. Macbeth is younger and more handsome than her first husband and Grelach thinks she can grow to feel affection for him, however, he has a nasty temper and a war-like nature that Grelach fears. Macbeth has been told by an "oracle" that he will have many sons and he looks forward to the birth of his first child. When the child is born female and with a crooked leg, Grelach fears for the safety of the child she loves. When Macbeth learns the baby is a girl and "deformed" he sends his henchman out into the woods to leave the baby for the wolves. The baby is rescued by Lady Macbeth's lady-in-waiting Rhuven, and given to her sisters to raise peacefully in the woods. Albia grows up believing Geillis is her mother and knowing nothing of the dramatic events that are to happen thanks to her aunt Helwain's prophecy. At age 14, Albia is sent to live with Banquo and his wife and grows to love her foster brother Fleance. Meanwhile, Grelach has been unable to provide Macbeth with sons. Scared for her life, she fosters his ambition in hopes that he will adopt her son and her family will return to the throne. Albia finally learns the truth about her heritage from a dying Geillis and also discovers that she has second sight. When Macbeth's perfidious deeds personally affect Albia, she desires revenge. Assisted by her friend Colum, the shepherd, she sets off to destroy Macbeth. Colum reminds her there's a difference between revenge and justice and Albia must decide which path she is to choose in order to save the kingdom and protect the man she loves. Lisa Klein says in her author's note that she drew on the true history of the period as well as Shakespeare's source material and the play itself. Her research really shows through in the wonderful, descriptive period details. The plot is a bit confusing and gruesome with too much killing shown. The ending is a bit confusing and open-ended. Grelach is not a character that readers are meant to like but she does inspire some sympathy and she could probably argue a convincing case that none of the destruction was her fault and she was an innocent victim. Albia is not very likable either. Her romantic plot isn't very convincing and if it were not part of the story, I think the story would have been a bit stronger. Overall though, the writing is really good (especially Shakespeare's) and though this book was written to be read alongside the play or just after, it works well as a stand-alone. I think high school students who have an interest in history and/or Shakespeare will really like this book.