Thursday, April 28, 2011

Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl

Prisoners in the Palace: How Victoria Became Queen with the Help of Her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel by Michaela MacColl

“London, 1856. Seventeen-year-old Liza’s dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in a tragic accident. Alone and penniless, she accepts the position of a lady’s maid to the young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servants’ world below-stairs as well as the trickery above. It is possible that her changing circumstances my offer Liza the opportunity to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future Queen?”

This really is a wonderful historical novel. From the first page I was interested in the plight of Elizabeth Hastings, whose parents have just died. She then discovers that her father has left behind large debts, including the bill for the hotel at which they were currently staying. Desperate, she follows the first job lead that comes her way—becoming a maid to Princess Victoria at Kensington Palace. As the daughter of a successful business man and minor nobility she enters into a whole new world as a servant. It takes a while for Eliza to get the hang of her new duties, especially since they include keeping her mouth shut, but the Victoria’s governess decides to keep her around because she can speak German. This makes it possible for her spy to on Victoria’s mother and her man, John Conley, who want to discredit Victoria and become her regents.

I had a hard time putting this book down once I started reading. The author makes you sympathize with Liza’s new status and portrays the detailed life of a servant in historic Victorian England. She also portrays Princess Victoria as a clever and strong character, though as a bit thoughtless because of her inexperience. Her Mother and John do not let Victoria have a moment alone and she really does lead a miserable existence, so it is interesting to watch her form a friendship and alliance with Liza to combat the scheming and plots of Sir John and her Mother.

In addition the novel also portrays the plight of orphans on the street, and the working class. A significant sub-plot is dedicated to Annie Mason, a servant that is dismissed as Victoria’s maid without recommendation. She is forced into prostitution and then a reform house, a very tragic storyline that shows the reader just how much Liza stands to lose if she is fired from her position, and the harsh realities of the Victorian world. I enjoyed the fact that the author showed not only the complexities of class and wealth in the Victorian world, but made interesting and sympathetic characters at all levels of society. So, while this is a fabulously plotted and superbly detailed historical novel parents/teachers of young teens should be aware of the heavy issues in the novel, and be ready to talk about the unfairness of the historical predicaments that sympathetic characters face.

Still a wonderful read and I find myself wanting to go read more about the life of Queen Victoria.

Author Michaela MacColl’s website

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