This review is horribly late. I've been so caught up in reading other novels and posting author spotlights (and interviews and reviews...) that I forgot to post my review of Marci Jefferson's "Girl on the Golden Coin", which in retrospect, is one of my favorite books this year.
"The Girl on the Golden Coin" is an excellent look at the life of Frances Stuart, the woman who would become the model for "Britannia" on England's coinage. I've always been enamored of her and even at one time thought of penning a novel about her myself. But since I do not like to trod over turned up ground, I moved on to other projects.
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.
Ms. Jefferson's writing style is very engaging, atmospheric without sacrificing the pace of the novel. Some reviewers complain that the novel is too light. It is fiction, not a doctoral thesis on Restoration England. Jefferson accurately captures the many court personalities 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.
My only quibble is that Frances' mother was not fully fleshed out, and their interactions suffer as a result. It's obvious 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. But over all, the novel is nicely paced and engrossing with an interesting author's note to cap it all off. "Girl on the Golden Coin" is a recommended read. And I'm looking forward to Marci's next novel which is entitled "The Enchantress of Paris" and takes place in the Louis XIV's court. It's due out next August.