Prisoners in the Palace (Michaela MacColl)

Prisoners in the PalacePrisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads: "London, 1838. Sixteen-year-old Liza's dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in an accident. Penniless, she accepts the position of lady's maid to young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servant's world below-stairs as well as the trickery above. Is it possible that her changing circumstances may offer Liza the chance to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future queen?"

Okay, I think I need to start out by saying that historical fiction is my drug.

Well, books are my drug. And certain genres are tastier than others, among them historical fiction. I'm kind of obsessed with Elizabethan England, so one would think I would know lots of things about other famous English times (like, for instance, the Victorian era). Turns out this is so not the case, and it's also clear, after reading this book, that I have been missing out.

I thought Prisoners in the Palace was an excellent, well-researched historical novel. Michaela MacColl draws largely on personal documents while writing (most of Princess Victoria's writings included in the book are completely real), and all in all provides a colorful, accessible portrait of the times. While history must be bent in order to make room for novels, you can be sure that the spirit of the time is completely intact in the book.

Besides the history, I found myself enjoying the characters. While they may not be the most nuanced in the world (and while things may work out slightly better for some of them than you might expect, considering the times), they were just fun, and I was rooting for our heroines the entire way through. Liza, a plucky teenage girl heartbroken by the loss of her parents, refuses to take no for an answer and wins herself a place in the Princess's household. I thought she was painted with just the right amount of gentile entitlement, but her spirit kept her from becoming simply annoying. Inside Boy, of course, is a favorite. But Victoria!

Did Ms. MacColl intend to draw Victoria the way she did? I think so... Princess Victoria is at turns completely spoiled and utterly childish -- but right from the start her political savvy is apparent in the way she manipulates the adults around her with what little power is left to her. She begins as a sheltered child, but by the end of the book she has grown completely into a young woman you know will have a backbone of steel. I loved what the author did with the Princess.

In short, I thought this book a diverting historical portrait that introduces the reader to some fascinating time periods that could otherwise have remained unknown. I know I'm much more interested in Princess (later Queen) Victoria than I was before I'd read this book. Recommended for fans of historical fiction, England, and strong women.

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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