Confession: I absolutely love reading stories and biographies about strong, independent women from history. I especially love to research royal characters (can’t help it, I have a natural love of sparkly jewelry and diplomacy). This month was a special treat for me as I had the pleasure of reading not one, but TWO excellent books centered around the life of Queen Victoria, one of my favorite women in history! I definitely have a lot to be thankful for in my reading life this Thanksgiving, even if this US election was a complete fail.
One book was fiction, while the other was a biography, and both were released last week and are available in your local bookstore or online. Read ahead for my thoughts on each!
What’s it All About?:
This historical fiction opens around Alexandrina Victoria’s 18th birthday, right before her uncle’s death and her coronation. Petite, sheltered, and inexperienced, somehow Victoria rises to the challenge with a little help from her handsome Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. She gains independence from her overbearing mother (she finally sleeps in her own bedroom!) and begins the task of ruling England and Ireland. And of course, her future great love Albert eventually makes an entrance into the story (though not until more than halfway through the novel, as our Queen needed some time as an independent woman, naturally!). This book is based on the PBS television show about Victoria.
I’ve read a couple of Daisy Goodwin novel’s in the past and have been disappointed (The Fortune Hunter, The American Heiress). So I was wary about this novel. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the character depth and maturity of the writing in comparison to Goodwin’s other novels. I do have a soft spot for Queen Victoria (I wrote one of my senior papers about this popular Royal) and enjoyed how Goodwin shaped Victoria’s personality – so realistic for a teenage girl who is suddenly thrust into the spotlight. The Victoria in this novel isn’t always lovable, but she is always human.
The book is relatively light and fast-paced, but shows more character development than I remember from her previous novels, which is always something I’m looking for. I also enjoyed the little crush our Queen had on the flirtatious Lord Melbourne – great way to add to the suspense, as we all know eventually our lady will end up with Albert! I would’ve loved if the novel had delved more into the marriage of the royal couple – perhaps a sequel is in our future?
Rating: 4/5 Stars
What’s it All About?:
After reading a delicious fiction about Victoria, this nonfiction account of the Queen’s life is a nice palate cleanser. The book opens with Victoria’s birth in 1819, and the reader quickly realizes how remarkable Victoria’s rise to rule actually was – she was actually fifth in line to the throne, with several men ahead of her in line. The biography also reveals how truly human Queen Victoria was- though Albert was a suitable “match” for a royal, Victoria also deeply loved him, as is visible even today by the countless memorials and dedications to him throughout the city of London. She was a passionate woman with interests and hobbies, while maintaining a strict moral code. She struggled to balance work and family, questioned her decisions, and mourned the death of her beloved spouse. She was also tough as nails – she survived not one, not two, but EIGHT assassination attempts!
Baird used previously inaccessible documents to paint a fuller picture of Queen Victoria; softer and more relatable from the “white washed” version we previously had gotten from her heavily edited diaries and journals. We’re able to gain new insight into Queen Victoria’s relationship with her servant John Brown, her “friend” after her husband’s death. We’re also able to find out her more personal thoughts on child-rearing and life outside of her duty as Queen.
Although I have about 18% of the book still to go (at over 700 pages it’s quite a commitment amidst all my holiday activity!), I’ve absolutely loved every moment I’ve spent with this story. I’m getting completely new insight into one of my favorite historical figures. And Baird’s writing is quite beautiful in places – most sections read like a novel, without delving into the salacious. Baird also put the political events within the context of the entire Empire, painting a larger picture than most other biographies I’ve read about Victoria.
Baird does an excellent job of collecting an array of facts into a cohesive form – everything from fashion to medicine to family drama. I am absolutely captivated by this book. Plus, as Victoria loved the Christmas season and influenced much of today’s modern holiday customs, this is a perfect time of year for you to learn more about this royal! I highly recommend.
Rating: 5/5 stars (if it changes for the last 50 pages or so, I’ll let you know, but I think 78% read is enough to give me a decent idea).
What have you been reading to kickstart your holiday season? Comment below! And get excited for a Bookish Gift Guide coming in the near future, as well as a guide from my recent trip to India!
Thanks to NetGalley for providing ARC’s for both of these titles in exchange for an honest review.