Monday, November 7, 2016

Victoria



















Victoria- Daisy Goodwin
St. Martin's Press
Release Date: November 22, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: Drawing on Queen Victoria’s diaries, which she first started reading when she was a student at Cambridge University, Daisy Goodwin―creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria and author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter―brings the young nineteenth-century monarch, who would go on to reign for 63 years, richly to life in this magnificent novel.

Early one morning, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world. 
Despite her age, however, the young queen is no puppet. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.
“I do not like the name Alexandrina,” she proclaims. “From now on I wish to be known only by my second name, Victoria.”
Next, people say she must choose a husband. Everyone keeps telling her she’s destined to marry her first cousin, Prince Albert, but Victoria found him dull and priggish when they met three years ago. She is quite happy being queen with the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who may be old enough to be her father but is the first person to take her seriously.
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Victoria is a novel that draws you in from the very beginning and, on reaching the end, leaves you wanting more.  Most of the major characters, especially Victoria and Melbourne, are written as complicated and multi-faceted people, Victoria in particular. She lived all her young life with her smothering mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her mother's controlling "personal secretary" Sir John Conroy.  Kept from interacting with people her own age, and indeed people in general, kept from learning the details of government and protocol that she should have learned in detail, Victoria becomes both an adult and a monarch at the same time.  Probably because of this, she often seems to act out against those trying to guide her as queen, with sometimes very unhappy consequences.  It makes her often seem a spoiled and slightly unlikeable girl, but also highlights her very human struggles.

Challenged at every turn by the men who should be supporting her, she is suspicious of every attempt at guidance except that of Lord Melbourne.  Melbourne, the former husband to the infamous Caro Lamb, seems many similarities between his late wife and his new queen.  How much of Victoria's appeal to Melbourne is him trying to recapture his youth and bright view of the world?  I get the impression that, for this novel at least, even Melbourne didn't quite know the answer.  

The emotional bonds between Victoria and Melbourne show very much a young girl's first infatuation.  But Melbourne is also the only person Victoria believes sees her as an equal and not as a pawn to be controlled.  When Prince Albert comes onto the scene I was disappointed to not be able to see something similar.  Albert seems to disapprove of much of what Victoria enjoys most- from music and dancing to her dog Dash.  They are thrown together with the expectation of marrying by their family, but why does Victoria choose Albert in the end?  There seems to be some chemistry between them, but the respect and friendship she has with Melbourne never appear with Albert.  I don't know how much of this was based on fact and how much was dramatic license.  Did Victoria marry Albert because it was expected, because she couldn't have Melbourne, and grow to love him? Was it Goodwin's choice in order to keep the relationship between Victoria and Melbourne the center of the reader's focus, since it is certainly the center of the book?  I had hoped for a brief Author's note or Historical Note at the end that might have answered this question, or said anything about where Goodwin stayed strictly to the facts vs when she fictionalized aspects, but the advanced copy I read did not have one. I don't know if the final printing will, but if so it would be very interesting.  The book definitely made me want to read more on Victoria and some of the other players in her early reign.

Daisy Goodwin's Victoria is an enthralling, well-researched and well-written novel based on Queen Victoria's own diaries and brings new and dramatic life to a fascinating historical period.  It is a coming of age story as Victoria grows from the sheltered girl of Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace's Queen of England.  Readers- whether already familiar with Victoria or not- will enjoy this fast-paced look at the life and times of one of the most famous women in history.  

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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