As a “fan girl” of King Charles II, it is only natural that I am also fascinated by his mistresses. Although I adore Nell Gwynne as my favorite; the o...moreAs a “fan girl” of King Charles II, it is only natural that I am also fascinated by his mistresses. Although I adore Nell Gwynne as my favorite; the other women are compelling, as well. Marci Jefferson reveals the role of Frances Stuart in her debut novel, “Girl on the Golden Coin”.
At this juncture of my many years of reading both history and historical fiction text; I can pretty much scan a book and know if it will please me. “Girl on the Golden Coin” instantly caused trepidation but its promises of scandal, intrigue, and duplicity surrounding Frances Stuart; insisted I proceed. As I suspected: I was let down. Big time.
“Girl on the Golden Coin” is best described as a “Stuart High School” drama filled with squealing, giggles, and shrugs. The novel is more fiction than history and fails to bring the era to life. Yes, there are some illustrative descriptions but overall, the authenticity is lacking as the focus is on teen-level soap opera drama. To be blunt: it doesn’t feel as though Jefferson did much research which is why the story is ‘told’ versus ‘lived’ and ‘shown’.
Although “Girl on the Golden Coin” is told in a first-person narrative; one never truly receives a real glimpse into Frances. She appears dense and yet illusive and has no character arc. In fact, none of the characters are portrayed strongly as Charles is not kingly, Queen Catherine is a dunce, Minette is a “mean girl”, and Frances lacks genuine chemistry with Charles. The only intriguing interaction is between Frances and the Duke of Buckingham.
The plotline in the novel is also thin. Nothing seems to ‘actually’ happen while uneventful pages pass. It isn’t that the pace is slow, per se; it is simply that the novel is boring. The reader will not learn historical facts nor experience memorable events. There is nothing to push “Girl on the Golden Coin”.
Jefferson’s work is a victim of the, “As you know, Bob”- method of storytelling in which characters discuss other figures or political events as a result of the first-person storytelling (a la Philippa Gregory). This becomes tedious with some sections feeling pointless except for this idle talk and adds to the absence of excitement.
It needs to be stated again that the major disappointment with “Girl on the Golden Coin” is the failure to bring Frances to life. Although this is HER novel, she breathes no air and Jefferson doesn’t give her any vibrancy. Plus, her portrayal is very inconsistent as she acts childlike one moment but alludes to adult behavior in the next moment.
Sadly, the well-known historical incidents involving Charles’s mistresses or the political landscape are glossed over, appearing unimportant. This means that those readers new to the topic don’t receive a proper introduction while novice readers don’t get to re-address their favorite moments. Also keeping the reader from truly getting into the story are the extremely short chapters (some are only 2 pages long). Everything is abrupt which prevents any depth or symbolism to seep through.
“Girl on the Golden Coin" finally improves during the last quarter of the novel with the final chapters being more ardent about history and including a creative interpretation of Frances’s elopement with the Duke of Richmond. However, the conclusion is rushed and honestly: doesn’t make much sense with the novel and therefore lacks strength. On the bright side, Jefferson provides an ‘Author’s Note’ explaining the historical liberties taken in the novel and explains some of her motives.
Overall, “Girl on the Golden Coin” is a fluffy, historical-fiction novel which emphasizes the ‘fiction’ aspect. Although the topic is interesting; both the presentation and the characters are flat and the plot doesn’t have much of a point or climax. The novel is only recommended for those new to the topic seeking an introduction or for readers seeking a light, 1-2 day fluffy read (which I know can be great for a ‘filler read’). Otherwise, those well-versed on the topic will be left unsatisfied. Credit should be given to Jefferson for writing a novel based on a figure who doesn’t receive much attention and therefore I would perhaps consider reading another one of Jefferson’s works to see if there is an improvement in her writing (but I would be in no rush). “Girl on the Golden Coin” is an empty-calorie read.(less)
With several bastard children and mistresses galore, King Charles II was very much a “lady’s man” during his lifetime. Surprisingly, even during today...moreWith several bastard children and mistresses galore, King Charles II was very much a “lady’s man” during his lifetime. Surprisingly, even during today’s feminist trends; Charles still provides a fascination amongst many female readers. Barbara Cartland explores the women in Charles’s life with “The Private Life of Charles II: The Women He Loved”.
Cartland’s portrait of the most well-known women in Charles’s life (ie his mother Queen Henrietta Maria, Mistress Wyndham, Marguerite de Carteret, Lucy Walter, Elizabeth Killigrew, Catherine Peg, his sister Minette, Barbara Villiers, Queen Catherine, Frances Steward, Nell Gwynne, Louise de Keroualle, and Hortense Mancini) is unlike a traditional historical biography. Although relatively chronological, each chapter focuses on a sole woman and how she physically and psychologically affected Charles’s life. Naturally other aspects of Charles’s life (including politics) are followed but the focus is the women. However, these are more of an overview which not only include speculation regarding emotions (which are stated as fact); but are also cut short and lack enough detail. “The Private Life of Charles II” is best described as an introductory course to these key females.
Cartland’s writing style lacks scholarly appeal, quotes, and passages and is instead written in a very narrative and story-like manner. Although this may be a disappointment to some hard-hitting, fact-seeking readers; it does result in a well-paced history book which moves quickly and does not bore the reader. This writing style may cause one to question Cartland’s historical accuracy. Even though “The Private Life of Charles II” does contain some speculation regarding romantic overtures and includes details which Cartland clearly added as a narrative descriptive-mover; the overall “gist” is quite accurate. Albeit, lacking deep details.
The main complaint against “The Private Life of Charles II” is the stereotypical descriptions of the women. No new angles are explored and those readers already familiar with Charles II may seek more. With that being said, I did learn some new facts (although I am unaware how accurate they are). “The Private Life of Charles II” does open up windows into Charles’s life and actions; but just don’t expect mini-biographies of the aforementioned women. Instead, Cartland merely introduces these women, with some discussed more extensively than others.
A characteristic complaint was Cartland’s obvious and ardent opinions which sometimes appear almost childish and gossip-y. Despite this, the overall essence of “The Private Life of Charles II” is not compromised.
Cartland’s conclusion is firm, moving, and collects the whole of her writing. Simply put: it is memorable.
Overall, “The Private Life of Charles II” is much better than expected and is an entertaining read. Although it may not be 100% scholarly; I did find myself learning some facts even though I am well versed in the topic. “The Private Life of Charles II” is recommended for those new to Charles II or those readers simply craving a lighter (but still informative) read. (less)
Although Peter Hammond’s “The Tower of London” is quite possibly a pamphlet/ program distributed to tourists; its glorious illustrations and insightfu...moreAlthough Peter Hammond’s “The Tower of London” is quite possibly a pamphlet/ program distributed to tourists; its glorious illustrations and insightful history still provides an enjoyable, quick read for Anglophiles.
“The Tower of London” opens with an overall history recap of the Tower of London from the first stones ordered by William the Conqueror to modern-day tourism. Although this introduction is beautifully supplemented by colorful illustrations and photographs, it is a brief overview: simply written (easy enough for middle-aged children) and thus lacking an overemphasis of detail. However, even without extensive depth, it still garners interest and prepares the reader for the second section of “The Tower of London”.
Hammond’s second portion, titled “The Buildings of the Tower”, dives into a closer portrait account of each section of the Tower (individual towers, wards, etc). Hammond presents various facets of information from the conception of the White Tower to floor plans, history to current occupants, and even the materials (types of stones) used. This detail is not cumbersome and instead brings the Tower to life along with the illustrations.
Although highly informative, “The Tower of London” is purely a factual presentation and is therefore not necessarily an entertaining reading in a narrative sense. The text lacks character or wit, however; it is a wealth of information for those interested in the topic (basically, it is very academic and reads like a school book).
The main highlight is the two-page centerfold of the entire Tower complex with each building and portion well-labeled. This centerfold shows the grandiosity of the Tower and is designed to impress the reader while providing a “go-to” illustration when reading the text.
A major complaint against “The Tower of London” was the mention of Jane Grey’s death being merely due to suffering “for her descent from Henry VII which made her, despite herself, a rival to Mary” versus indicating her “Nine Days Queen” reputation.
The end of “The Tower of London” is quite strong describing the many tourist attractions and events at the tower (the Royal Armouries, Crown Jewels, the Changing of the Guards, Ceremony of the Keys, the “Ravenmaster”, etc); soliciting excitement from the reader. I am even more excited to visit the Tower than I was before (I didn’t know that was possible)! Overall, “The Tower of London” is an informative guide which will satisfy a tourist or Anglophile for a quick read or browse. (less)
In the absence of a working time machine, we can not get a true glimpse into the mind of a historical figure. However, we can come close by looking at...moreIn the absence of a working time machine, we can not get a true glimpse into the mind of a historical figure. However, we can come close by looking at the letters and private writings which are still available centuries later. Sir Arthur Bryant compiles and edits letters, documents, speeches, and even personal notes of Charles Stuart in, “The Letters of King Charles II”.
Bryant presents the writings of Charles II in chronological order from boyhood onward through exile, restoration, wars, and death. Bryant particularly attempts to supplement the lack of writings in Charles’s own hand during his reign (when he had secretaries and chancellors) by including speeches, official documents, and personal notes. Any omissions are noted.
The most notable characteristic of “The Letters of Charles II” is its fluency. Due to the one-sided documents (meaning, there is no back-and-forth text: only Charles’s side with the exemption of notes between him and the chancellor), the reading can be a bit slow. Yet, Bryant keeps the narrative flowing by including predisposed explanations and end notes which helps answer reader questions and solidify cohesiveness. Further, one can’t help but be immersed in the letters, even if one sided; as Charles’s writing skills are eloquent and illustrative yet not overly dramatic.
Elaborating on this, “The Letters of Charles II” truly brings Charles to life. His letters convey his thoughts in a solid but beautiful way while revealing his true personality. The reader will be impressed with his calm and caring nature even facing the death of his father, exile, and a Cromwellian regime. Those readers with a ‘crush’ on Charles will certainly be satisfied while researchers must read these letters before writing about Charles in order to get a precise glimpse of the man.
Admittedly, based on my own preference, I found much satisfaction in the personal letters (especially those to Charles’s sister, Minette). However, Bryant maintains a steady ratio of personal and political documents satisfying both camps. When Charles reigns and withdraws from writing as much in his own hand, Bryant includes personal back-and-forth notes between Charles and his chancellor (compare them to school notes amongst student passed during class) which are charming, enlightening, and sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny. Again, the reader can accurately gain insight into Charles’s personality.
Bryant’s research also includes properly dated and authenticated documents; some of which were previously misdated and/or categorized for centuries.
Aside from learning more on Charles as a person; “The Letters of King Charles II” also strips policy down into manageable views resulting in Charles’s reign being more understandable, clear, and therefore illuminating history in a better way.
As the book progresses, the pace increases and feels like a narrative arc capturing reader attention. Much of the middle focuses on letters to Minette which is a wonderful open window for those interested in learning of their relationship. Sadly absent are letters to mistresses or even the mention of mistresses. The majority of “The Letters of Charles II” focuses on policy so those seeking bedroom gossip will be disappointed. On the other hand, “The Letters of King Charles II” remains compelling including such briefs as letters in cipher which Bryant has translated for the reader.
“The Letters of Charles II” concludes capturing the drama in the last few years of Charles’s reign while Bryant also features personal letters to Charlotte, Countess of Lichfield (daughter of Charles and the Duchess of Cleveland) which depicts Charles in a well-rounded way and finishes the book on a strong note.
My only complaint, which is VERY minor, is that the genealogical chart of the House of Stuart appears postscript and would be much more useful in the beginning.
“The Letters of King Charles II” is an extraordinary collection which is great for researchers or those simply interested in a more personal view of Charles II. One can’t help but be blown away that these record still exist! “The Letters of King Charles II” is a wonderful read and much recommended for royal history of House of Stuart lovers. (less)
You may be familiar with the Restoration and Charles II. Or maybe not. Regardless, Rose Tremain gives this historical period double-meaning in her nov...moreYou may be familiar with the Restoration and Charles II. Or maybe not. Regardless, Rose Tremain gives this historical period double-meaning in her novel, “Restoration”.
“Restoration” is a novel which can’t be ignored as it is simply “alive” with sounds, emotions, and colors immediately jumping from Tremain’s pages the second the reader opens the book. Saying that “Restoration” has a heartbeat is putting it mildly. This lively novel is supplemented by the main character of Robert Merivel who has disgusting flaws and yet is so relatable, that he is an extremely likable character.
Tremain successfully turns a character which would be hated in any other novel into a lovable one. “Restoration” is not a typical novel but is more of a character study following Merivel. At times, the reader may think that there is no real plot and yet “Restoration” continues to be a page turner as it feels like one is actually living the story while reading it. Furthermore, Merivel’s character arc is perfect: not too fast, not too slow, and yet subtle enough to be realistic.
Tremain’s prose and literary language in “Restoration” is also top-notch. “Restoration” features all of the star qualities of classic literature along with historical accuracy and character dialogue which feels of the times. The reader will have to be reminded that Tremain was not actually alive during Charles II’s reign.
All of the characters in “Restoration” have such magnetic chemistry with each other that the story becomes riveting and yet the ratio of coverage each character portrays in relation to others is never overdone. “Restoration” also features unique storytelling where Merivel speaks almost directly to the reader. Although this can be perceived as “cheesy”; it works in “Restoration” (as everything seems to).
Tremain doesn’t focus too much attention on describing the setting of the scenes and yet each creates a vivid picture. Simply put: “Restoration” has a unique draw while being written exceptionally well. Also noteworthy are the multi-layered events. Instead of merely being a part of the plot-line; each occurrence in the story signifies a deeper lesson/meaning, adding substance to the novel and thought-provoking philosophical ideas. Additionally moving (and compelling) is Merivel being a protagonist and his own antagonist. There is nothing more relatable than being your own worst enemy.
The second half of “Restoration” is much different from the first with Tremain focusing more on the story than of the deeper character study of the first half. Although this doesn’t significantly decrease the merit of “Restoration”; it does somewhat change the impact of the writing.
Although subjective, I found the descriptions of Merivel’s dreams/nightmares to be tedious and not necessary to the plot. Not only do these not add depth, but Tremain over utilizes the tactic.
Part two brings about a slackening of pace within the novel and a less inviting plot (although Merivel is still likable). However, the views and angles of historical events such as the Plague and the Great Fire of London are notably different than other historical fiction novels (in a good way). The conclusion is weaker than expected but “Restoration” does come full circle and Tremain answers open-ended questions.
“Restoration” is unique, well-written, and incorporates a compelling story with a terrific literary character. Tremain’s work is suggested for those readers interested in historical fiction or specifically of seventeenth-century England. (less)
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the Mancini sisters aside from Hortense having been a perspective wife to Charles II and later being his mistress...moreAdmittedly, I didn’t know much about the Mancini sisters aside from Hortense having been a perspective wife to Charles II and later being his mistress. This is because of my love for Nell Gwynne and therefore, Hortense was “competition”. What better way to infuse my knowledge about this “forward” lady and her sister Marie than with Elizabeth C. Goldsmith’s, “The Kings’ Mistresses”?
Although dual biographies can pose problems (bias towards one of the figures, not enough information, or a lack of cohesiveness to name a few); Goldsmith’s “The Kings’ Mistresses” is a rare gem. Initially introducing the Mancini sisters with a background view of their family and both the courts of France and Rome (don’t be shy to consult the genealogical table!); Goldsmith then alternates chapters focusing on each sister. Although this could cause sequencing confusion, Goldsmith seamlessly fuses their stories and manages to produce two separate stories woven into one. Furthermore, unlike other dual biographies, both Marie and Hortense receive equal time and detail within in their respective chapters.
The reader feels the drama of the sisters so vividly and can’t help but be wrapped up in wonder and inspiration (for instance, Hortense was the first non-royal female to pen her memoirs published under her own name and her attempt at divorce “became the first of its kind to be aired in international media” while generating “published treatises and arguments about the legal right of women in marriage” (189).
Speaking of detail, the amount of information and knowledge which Goldsmith presents is awe-inspiring, compelling, and entertaining, along with drama and a rich pace. Yet, the text is not overwhelming as Goldsmith knows the precise equation regarding which topics to dive deeper into and which to allow more air. Goldsmith also has the ability to bring the text to life. The events and settings are described in such a manner that the reader feels like he/she is seeing everything first-hand. Even those readers with little interest and/or knowledge of the courts of France and Rome will find the text easy-to-read but beautiful.
Goldsmith augments the work with a lofty amount of primary resources with the majority being letters and family papers/documents which creates a feeling of the sisters themselves addressing the reader and thus, the reader in turn being able to learn their private thoughts (very much like reading a memoir, which makes sense because there are memoir excerpts). Sometimes, Goldsmith offers facts which are more on a social history level (meaning: a glimpse into how events are either viewed or effected current times); which would normally be an elementary tactic in a biography but works rather well in “The Kings’ Mistresses”. These are not over-done nor employed often enough to annoy the reader not interested in this method.
Goldsmith also skips the habit of other writers who present too much speculation. Again, the amount of knowledge is staggering and amazing so she perhaps doesn’t need to speculate. Also intriguing is the full view created of the sisters as not only letters and primary sources from other people in their lives are quoted; but also sister regarding sister! Although time periods overlap between the chapters, the reader does not have difficulties remembering what the other sister was experiencing at the same time, due to Goldsmith’s ability to present information in a solid way.
One minor setback is that unlike other history works, Goldsmith declined to include a color plate insert. This is disappointing as she mentions a vast amount of artworks and portraits which would have supplemented the text well to be added.
The ending was the weakest portion of “The Kings’ Mistresses” with overly- epitaph writing. Further, although Marie’s death and legacy was described in a somewhat lengthy manner, Hortense’s death was somewhat skimmed and the impact on Marie was completely absent and ignored which leaves the reader with questions. Overall, however, “The Kings’ Mistresses” is delightful, informative, and very well written. One thing is for sure: I now have a huge interest and respect for the Mancini sisters. (less)
On a personal (background note), I am utterly in love in Nell Gwynne and Charles II. However, I also love Charles’s wife, Queen Catherine of Braganza....moreOn a personal (background note), I am utterly in love in Nell Gwynne and Charles II. However, I also love Charles’s wife, Queen Catherine of Braganza. What a love triangle I partake in! Thus, an insight into the view of Catherine and her opinions on Charles, his mistresses, and many bastards in Hilda Lewis’s “Wife to Charles II”; sounds like an ideal read for me. Sadly, I can’t finish this book.
Unlike most novels which I simply can’t garner the strength to finish; “Wife to Charles II” isn’t terrible in the sense that I DO suggest it to other readers in order for them to make their own self-assessment (unlike the other books I can’t finish which I don’t recommend for anyone). The reasoning for this is because Lewis’s work isn’t poor, it simply isn’t for me. The writing style is too narrative and resembles a theatrical play with a narrator describing the feelings of the characters and occasional pieces of dialogue. Written in such a structure: “Charles felt sad. Charles knew he had to marry. Catherine was pretty”; “Wife to Charles II” causes a large gap between the reader and the characters. There is a lack of introduction, proper character arc, and sense of “living the events” which results in the novel falling flat despite the exciting subject matter.
There was a filter between the psyche of Catherine even in spite of the story-telling form. Although she is the main character, Catherine felt like a side character for much of the book. Her character plot is choppy and almost invisible, at times.
Despite the narrative form which replicates a theater performance, the language is in-line with the time period and makes use of descriptive language. The historical elements are strong and the details regarding Charles and his background describe his characteristics and life without simply declaring the historical facts or “reviewing” them like some other historical fiction books.
Sadly, I just can’t go on with “Wife to Charles II” although I truly want to. The plot is ideal and interesting but the writing style simply doesn’t hold my attention. Again, it isn’t terrible and I CAN see why others would enjoy it. Therefore, Hilda Lewis’s “Wife to Charles II” is a novel to check on your own accord as it does have potential. (less)
Those familiar with “Jemmy”, Charles II’s first bastard son, generally have one image of him: that of a spoiled boy who eventually attempts to gainsay...moreThose familiar with “Jemmy”, Charles II’s first bastard son, generally have one image of him: that of a spoiled boy who eventually attempts to gainsay the throne. Jude Morgan reveals this much talked about but little known figure in “The King’s Touch”.
“The King’s Touch” is told from perspective of James, the son of Charles II and is featured in hindsight with James looking back on his life. This creates a memoir-like feel with an adult perspective. Morgan successfully implores this tactic as “The King’s Touch” strongly recreates events and allows the reader to live them versus Jemmy simply recalling them. On the negative side, however, it isn’t mentioned what stage of life Jemmy is telling his life story from which creates some awkwardness and unanswered questions.
Although “The King’s Touch” begins somewhat slowly and is quite heavy as it covers Jemmy’s entire life; it picks up speed and is easy to read. Furthermore, the novel perfectly blends history with fiction with a ratio which eliminates fluff but also isn’t boring. The known facts concerning Jemmy are accurate while the historical liberties are not over dramatized and feel realistic.
Also strengthening the novel is Morgan’s ease of introducing characters with strong personalities but without the distress of “keeping track” of them. The reader is not overwhelmed although a genealogical table would be helpful for those readers unfamiliar with the Stuarts. Morgan also portrays each figure (Jemmy, Charles II, Minette, Queen Catherine, etc) with depth, dimensions, and brings them to life. The reader truly feels the veils dropped and the inner thoughts of each are revealed.
Some readers will not be satisfied by the ebb and flow of the pace within “The King’s Touch” due to its biographical feel of Jemmy’s life. This means that many times “nothing” of note is happening, per se, and instead the novel follows the history of the times versus dramatic plots which some readers of HF seek. “The King’s Touch” is detailed and quite stretched out. Admittedly, this raises the question of a “point” or conclusion (the point is Jemmy’s life). “The King’s Touch” brings Jemmy to the forefront and is a character study following his growth and relationships (versus the court intrigues of Charles II).
As expected, the pace of the novel continues to quicken as the novel begins to grow and introduces the mistresses of Charles, the Plague, the Great Fire, etc; which grip the reader’s attention. Also growing is Jemmy’s character which strengthens, evolves, and is quite compelling. Again, one has to be reminded that the novel is fictional and not a first-hand account due to its believability.
Although Morgan’s language style is rich and eloquent, there are some annoyances such as the constant use of the descriptor of “booby” (akin to “fool”). Also odd are Jemmy’s constant story breaks where he says his “lover just read over my last lines and thought…” Instead of adding to the memoir feel, this interrupts thought streams and causes confusion as the reader doesn’t even know who this lover is until the end of the novel.
Even though Charles’s mistresses are not main characters, the portrayals are accurate and Nell Gwynne fans will rejoice in her ability to jump off the pages even with a few short lines (as one would expect with Nelly!).
The conclusion to “The Kings Touch” is somewhat weaker than expected with a build up to a climax which seeming doesn’t occur. Furthermore, the after word courtesy of Jemmy’s mistress takes away from the novel versus adding to it especially with the annoyances of calling Jemmy “my love” every two seconds even when describing battles ("My love’s men”, “My love’s sword”). The novel could have done without this section.
Overall, “The King’s Touch” is a very strong novel with depth, strong characters, historical accuracy, and a great ‘angle’. Although it is a bit long and tedious at times; it is much recommended for lovers of Restoration England.
Note: I have read “Indiscretion” by Jude Morgan and found “The King’s Touch” to be much more enjoyable. (less)
To say that Charles II led a difficult and over-the-top soap opera of a life would be putting it lightly. Forced into exile away from his overbearing...moreTo say that Charles II led a difficult and over-the-top soap opera of a life would be putting it lightly. Forced into exile away from his overbearing mother and wishy-washy father; Charles was inclined to grow up rather quickly. Yet, he knew that the throne was deservedly his and the journey to the top of the kingdom would forever drive his motives. From disguising himself as a peasant with the help of Royalist supporters, barely eating, and literally walking miles in forests to finally defeating the vile and disgusting usurper Oliver Cromwell; Charles paid his dues for the throne. Who can blame him for the over-excess of mistresses and theater entertainment he sought in his life?! You would too!
His life was a tale to be told and Stephen Coote has done it remarkably. Beginning with his birth and following Charles's life all the way to the trials and tribulations of being King, this novel spares no details. Smoothly progressing with solid passage, quotes, facts, and in perfect sequence and yet with more drama than the latest episode of Jersey Shore. Even if you don't agree with his monarchical decisions, you will be cheering on this Stuart heir.
If you feel like your life is tough, read this novel and you may think otherwise. A must-read!(less)
As a fan of Susan Holloway Scott’s "Dutchess" and “Royal Harlot”; it was nice to give my favorite mistress, Nell, a chance in Scott’s “The King’s Favo...moreAs a fan of Susan Holloway Scott’s "Dutchess" and “Royal Harlot”; it was nice to give my favorite mistress, Nell, a chance in Scott’s “The King’s Favorite”. Nell is spunky yet smart, humorous and yet with a touch of sadness. Does Scott bring this to life?
Susan Holloway Scott’s “The King’s Favorite” lacks a proper introduction to Nell. Although this successfully “gets the story moving”; it prevents a character arc or the building of a relationship with the reader. Furthermore, Scott’s portrayal of Nell is too extreme on the goodie-goodie side. Historical fiction authors always create Nell as either a slut or an angel versus a complacent middle ground. This causes an unbelievable factor in her character. Further, Nell lacks the wit she is known for in the “The King’s Favorite”.
“The King’s Favorite” has a slow start (which never seems to pick up) and fails to bring both Nell or the time period alive. The rich, illustrated scenery and depth which could be accessed is instead one-dimensional and hardly explored. One could even forget that “The King’s Favorite” is a HF novel. Plus, Scott takes too many historical liberties with Nell and the events of her life. Versus being a biographical-based novel, “The King’s Favorite” is almost like a novel with Nell simply in it.
One of the odd (and annoying) traits of “The King’s Favorite” was each chapter skipping ahead many months (or even a year) at a time in sequencing; breaking up the story and inhibiting Nell’s development. This, along with a slow storyline, causes an absence of depth and something to cling to. Missing is the growth and build-up of tension which a reader seeks. Holloway attempts to stylize the novel by occasionally using Nell to narrate and look back at her story like a memoir or autobiography; however, this isn’t implored with much strength and simply “doesn’t work”. The foreshadowing of Nell’s future with the King is blunt and leaves nothing to the imagination. Not to mention, Scott seemed to do the opposite of what would strengthen the story: more eventful possibilities (Lord Buckhurst and Nell’s summer with him) were glossed over while minor events were dragged out adding to the boredom of the novel.
Nell’s childish antics also brought great annoyances. If Scott declared that Nell would do a jig one more time… I was going to scream! Or, if Nell tells the King she will do “whatever he wishes”… vomit! Lacking in intrigue, I found myself only reading to the novel to end versus to find out what happens because arguable, Scott’s version doesn’t have anything happening.
Most historical fiction novels pertaining to Nell include interactions between Nell and Rose (her sister), other mistresses, and other fellow female actresses which adds depth and demonstrates Nell’s personality. “The King’s Favorite” missed that boat, as well. Although these minor characters would be mentioned, they were never involved in any dialogue. Furthermore, some of the well-known confrontations between Nell and other mistresses were disjointed and “thrown-in” without flowing smoothly. This was also the case with the mention of politics with didn’t flow with the plot.
The ending is quite abrupt and concluded on a political note which doesn’t make sense with much of the focus of the novel. The “Author’s Note” was much more compelling than the entire novel and thus, is recommended for reading.
Although I overall didn’t enjoy “The King’s Favorite”, I will still read “The French Mistress” because I like Scott’s previous works and therefore, I want to see if this novel is an isolated fluke. It is possible that Scott attempted to make Nell’s character too approachable (since she wasn’t high-born) and instead created a characterization that was a simpleton. Ironically, she describes Nell better in the “Author’s Note” than in the novel. Simply, “The King’s Favorite” is another Nell novel which did not blow me away. (less)
I always say that actors in films "do a good job" when they play a mean character I am supposed to hate and I indeed "hate" them while watching a movi...moreI always say that actors in films "do a good job" when they play a mean character I am supposed to hate and I indeed "hate" them while watching a movie. In the same respect, we are generally meant to hate Barbara Villiers, the famous greedy and sex-crazed mistress of Charles II. Susan Holloway Scott allowed her character to play a Oscar-winning performance because frankly: I hate this mistress (okay, granted I am a fan of Nell Gwynne).
A wonderfully saturated book including the sexual craving and power ambitions of this long-standing mistress while feeding you with some insight into her personal reasoning. We may never know how the mistress actually felt and thought in "real life" but Scott provides a rather close depiction.
Love her or hate her, this is one mistress who will grab your attentions either way.(less)
I should warn you that Nell is my favorite historical figure and therefore I judge works on her quite harshly. With that being said, I still gave Gill...moreI should warn you that Nell is my favorite historical figure and therefore I judge works on her quite harshly. With that being said, I still gave Gillian Bagwell’s “The Darling Strumpet” a fair shot and didn’t stop reading even when my eyes started rolling.
The harsh onslaught of graphic sexual encounters within the immediate first few pages is a bit hard to digest, even being aware of Nell’s lifestyle. This sort of introduction to those readers who may not familiar with Nell can cause distance which may not be lapsed. Nell is likable enough, however, she lacks the usual spunk and wit displayed in other historical fiction novels about her life. It is difficult to decide whether to root for her or be disgusted in “The Darling Strumpet” because the lack of character development prevents a detailed feel and look into her psyche.
“The Darling Strumpet” took until page 60 to become a bit more bearable (meaning: less about sex); and emphasized the foreshadowing and introductions of Nell’s theatrical career. However, speaking of foreshadowing, Bagwell exhausts the references to Lady Castlemaine and Nell’s desire to be like her and command her position with the King. Even a reader unfamiliar with Nell could decipher that she would become on-par (and sometimes above) Barbara in the mistress world.
Not only is historical accuracy not 100% but also much of the historical backdrop is lacking in terms of imagery and actually “living” the era. Oftentimes, it felt like a story with Nell simply in it versus her actual life story. I suppose “The Darling Strumpet” is more fiction than history. This is also weakened by the plot which is choppy and at times and too rushed. Plus, in order to explain the historical elements and lay the foundation for future events; Bagwell uses the method of having characters “gossip”. Again, the events aren’t “lived” and are instead merely discussed. This is supplemented by odd storylines such as fictional murders and mysteries. These simply don’t fit into the story, don’t add any essence, and are only briefly mentioned but then never explored. The characters involved are usually abruptly cut-off.
The effort to make Nell witty falls short. Other characters in “The Darling Strumpet” comment on her spunk but it doesn’t make sense because she is not feisty in the novel. Basically, something is missing from Nell’s usual personality.
Issues also arise with the writing style which is too modern and contains literary style which is one-dimensional and more YA than adult-oriented and thus, lacks a certain depth. Consistency is a problem as the enjoyment factor is up-and-down. For instance, the theater descriptions are always more hearty which exposes Bagwell’s own possible extensive interest in the topic and less in others.
As mentioned earlier, the sex scenes (which include threesomes) are a bit much to handle if you possess some lady-like qualities. Despite Nell’s “whore” background, it is a degrading portrayal and I’ve read better. If this was my first Nell book, I wouldn’t be as attracted to her. In terms of other characters, Charles Hart is a “good guy” in “The Darling Strumpet” with Nell leaving him broken-hearted. Usually, Hart is a promiscuous character and thus this alternate view can either upset or entice readers. Also skewed is the missing elements of relationships (whether positive or negative) between Nell and other female actresses like Moll Davis and Beck Marshall.
Wondering about the King and Nell? Charles and Nell lack chemistry and (AGAIN) the witty Nell we know and love is lost. These interactions between Nell and Charles should have been the meat and potatoes in “The Darling Strumpet” but they fall flat and Nell is child-like and under-developed.
The ending of “The Darling Strumpet” was rushed and without much substance. Every other page consisted of a character dying off, clearly to prep for Nell’s own death. It felt like Bagwell ran out of a plot.
Overall, “The Darling Strumpet” is not the best portrayal/glimpse into Nell or historically worthy. I wouldn’t necessarily want a first-time Nell reader to be acquainted with her in this light. (less)