Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: "Girl on the Golden Coin" by Marci Jefferson

Hello dear readers...

As I teased on Facebook yesterday, here is my review of the recently released Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson. The is a real life historical focusing on Frances Stuart, the daughter of a Royalist physician and cousin to the ruling Stuarts of England.

I've been intrigued by Frances's story since stumbling upon it some years ago while reading Wikipedia. As someone with a history background, I certainly don't recommend using Wikipedia as a research resource, but it is passes the time when you are interested in all of walks of European royalty and aristocrats.

I briefly contemplated writing a novel about Frances myself, but I discovered that Maeve Haran had just released a novel about her at that time. I'm not one to wear out already explored territory, so I moved on to other ventures. When I read about Ms. Jefferson and her upcoming book, naturally I was thrilled. I finally obtained a review copy through Netgalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The novel opens when Frances is but a girl and a exile living in France. The English Civil War is raging and the Stuart family has been fractured by the fighting. Charles, the Prince of Wales, is a vagabond, moving from court to court throughout Europe, while his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria is living in France with her daughter Henriette. Frances' mother is attached to the Queen's household, so Frances grows up as a boon companion to the young princess. Some years later, Henriette is married off to Louis XIV's younger brother while still pining for the king. Frances unwittingly wins the King's heart, but loyal to her friend, refuses to become his mistress. And so begins her journey. In retribution for turning him down, Louis sends Frances back to England to serve in the court of the newly restored King Charles II. She is to become the King's mistress and use her influence to sway him in favor of France. Then begins the conflict. Frances is ill suited to political and court intrigues but is forced to play the game in an attempt to save her family's honor and to keep a past scandal secret. She handily charms the king and his court, becoming known as La Belle Stuart. But she is constantly conflicted by her loyalty to Queen Catherine and her growing feelings (and passion) for King Charles.

I was drawn into this book from the very first chapter. Ms. Jefferson's writing style is very engaging,
The original cast for the Britannia coin; courtesy of the
National Portrait Gallery
atmospheric without sacrificing the pace of the novel. She accurately captures the personalities of many of the court's movers and shakers including King Charles and his Queen Catherine, his established mistress Barbara, Lady Castlemaine, and his brother the Duke of York. Frances' conflicted feelings for Charles seem to be sexual in nature at first, but she grows to love him, and is a better character for it. She never seeks to excel her own person throughout the novel and constantly makes sacrifices (including her own morality) for her family. If anything, Frances is probably a little too good, but she never comes off as an annoying martyr.

If I have to quibble about anything, it would be the fact that Frances' mother is never fully fleshed out, and their interactions suffer as a result. It's obvious that the woman was very withdrawn but it would have been nice to know what was going on in her head (even if it were only through dialogue) especially since her secret is Frances' main motivation for acting as she does.

Though over all, the novel is nicely paced and engrossing--I was reading whenever I could pick it (and sometimes when I should have been doing other things). I learned a great deal about Frances and the author's note on the history of the time period and her primary sources about Frances is very informative and cleared up any misgivings that I had about her portrayal. So I definitely recommend this book. It is now available on Amazon or at your local book seller.

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