Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Review: Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela Maccoll

Okay, enough slacking off from me! I've had essentially a month's vacation from blogging, and hopefully I've gotten that slacking out of my system. It's the beginning of a new month, the last month of the year, and I'm going to be much better about blogging regularly from here on out!

On to the book at hand: I was already looking forward to reading Prisoners in the Palace: How Princess Victoria became Queen with the Help of Her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel before Chronicle contacted me and offered me a copy for review (so thanks for that!). If nothing else, I was eager to get my hands on a copy to get a look at the cover up close. The Space Between Trees, reviewed in July, had a beautifully unique cover, with the cutout silhouette revealing a pearlescent paper. This time around the front cover is metallic (I'm like a magpie when it comes to shiny stuff), with the back cover invoking the 19th century equivalent of supermarket tabloid with excerpts of gossipy articles teasing plot points of the book. Underneath the jacket, the book is decorated in a damask design. Chronicle is clearly invested in making their books look just as good on the outside as they are on the inside - and Prisoners in the Palace is quite excellent!

Prisoners in the Palace: How Princess Victoria became Queen with the Help of Her Maid, a Reporter, and a ScoundrelJust as Liza Hastings is preparing for her grand debut into London society in 1836, tragedy strikes - her parents are killed in an accident, leaving Liza penniless and destitute. Through generous family connections, however, Liza is able to apply for a position in the household of Princess Victoria - as a lady's maid. It's a huge step down socially for Liza, but when the other option is to be out on the street, she is determined to make the best of her situation.

A cunning and clever young woman, Liza is drawn into the intrigue of royal life, and the lives of the royal servants. Genuinely fond of the princess, Liza looks out for the naive young woman and does all she can to protect the princess from her predatory guardian, while trying to avoid being fired for impertinence. She is assisted by, as the subtitle says, a reporter and a scoundrel. The newspaper industry was growing rapidly during this era, and Liza teams up with a promising broadsheet entrepreneur to promote Victoria's interests. The scoundrel facilitates Liza's meetings, and even has the chance to be a hero in his own right.

Maccoll has crafted an excellent work of historical fiction. In fact, I think this is even deserving of the title historical thriller, as Laurie Halse Anderson has asked that her historical works be called. Prisoners in the Palace is filled with intrigue and danger, though perhaps on a smaller scale than Chains and Forge. Maccoll truly brings her characters to life through engaging dialog and seamless integration of historical facts into the narrative. History is further brought to life through excerpts of Victoria's journals and other contemporary writings, though Maccoll admits in the author's note that she fudged the date and order of some of these.

This is a novel primarily populated by women, and they are a diverse and engaging group, ranging from disgraced maids to Queens of England. The men don't get as much screen time so they come off flatter in comparison to people like Liza and Victoria, but still support an excellent story.

I enthusiastically recommend Prisoners in the Palace to fans of historical fiction thrillers, and even to those of you who claim you'd rather stick with contemporary or fantasy novels. Maccoll clearly paints the picture of early-19th century England for those of us who know little of the time period, and populates the world with characters who perfectly balance historical and modern sensibilities.

Reviewed from review copy received from publisher.


Michelle said...

I thought this was a fantastic book as well! I really enjoyed the look at Princess Victoria.

Anna Rhoswen said...

Now that I've paid my library fines (~ahem~), I've put this on hold for Christmas break! Hopefully it will be here in time, because it looks very intriguing. I'm so glad you're back to the grindstone and can keep me up-to-date on what's good to read. ;)

Romance Novels said...

Nice review! I absolutely love historical novels and especially thrillers. This is definitely going on the top of my to-read list! I like how the book offers different societal perspectives from maids to the Queen, it definitely gives it a deeper dimension.

Angela Craft said...

Romance Novels - it does an *excellent* job portraying the way maids, ladies, and queens perceive society. Liza takes quite a fall, socially-speaking, accepting the position as Victoria's maid, and she frequently points out to us readers when Victoria is totally blinded by her privilege. She doesn't say much directly to Victoria, since she's employed at Victoria's whim and doesn't want to anger the princess, but she does what she can to subtly open the future monarch's eyes to the way the rest of the world works.

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