“London, 1836. Seventeen-year-old Liza’s dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in a tragic accident. Alone and penniless, she accepts the position of lady’s maid to the young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servants’ world below-stairs as well as the trickery above. Is it possible that her changing circumstances may offer Liza the opportunity to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future Queen?”
To most, Queen Victoria is better known as the Queen of Britain, the woman to start the trend of white wedding dresses, Britain’s longest reigning monarch or simply the serious looking old woman in royal portraits who famously declared, “we are not amused”.
But before any of that, she was simply Princess Victoria. A young girl, ruled over by her over protective mother, living an unhappy existence under the oppressive ‘Kensington System’, waiting in the wings to become Queen.
Michaela MacColl’s Prisoners in the Palace is based on real life events in the three years (which have been condenced into one) leading up to Victoria taking the crown, including excerpts from the young Princess’s real journal, but have been elaborated on to create the story we have today.
Some characters are real, such as the Princess (duh), her mother the Duchess, Sir John, Lehzen and other members of the royal family. Though others are fiction, their origin is from people who lived in the time.
The story is artfully told through letters, journal entries, newspaper articles, but primarily from the perspective of the fictional character Liza. After her parent’s tragic deaths in a carriage accident Liza is left with debts to settle and her dreams of her first season in society are crushed. Instead she takes a job as the Princess’s maid and the extra job of playing spy to the Baroness, who is trying to find out what Sir John and Victoria’s mother are planning.
MacColl paints an amazing picture of Georgian London that is quite true to life. Through Liza when she steps out of the palace we see both the life the rich lived and how unforgiving and cruel the London streets could be to the poor, where the options for survival were limited, particularly for a woman.
For the Princess, Liza’s arrival to the rundown Kensington Palace (which, many years later would be home to Princess Diana) is a dream come true. Sir John’s ‘Kensington System’ requires Victoria to be completely shut off from friends, her finances and the outside world “for her protection”, when in reality it’s a system that intends to make her submissive, stripping her of her free will making her completely dependent and under the influence of Sir John and her mother the Duchess. This power over the Princess would mean that they would be running the show, with Victoria as their puppet.
With the help of Inside Boy Jones (who is secretly living within the palace walls) and Will, a London journalist, Liza uncovers their plans and does everything in her power to break their hold over Victoria.
The characters in this book are rich with personality and the interaction between them was completely engaging. Victoria’s personality was surprising since she is quite childlike and initially very compliant and under the control of her guardians. As the story progresses we see her really take ownership and finds the strength needed to not only rule her life but rule her country.
The blur of fiction with reality is what makes the story completely fascinating. We all know how the story ends, Victoria goes on to become queen, but what’s interesting is how and what happened before hand to make it happen.
Though it’s a historical fiction novel and definitely has the feel and mannerism of the period down pat, the story flows smoothly and is written beautifully so that you don’t get the feeling of being weighed down by the rigidness that some historical novels have. Prisoners in the Palace was impressive, intriguing (as the cover states) and engaging, I definitely recommend it.
Publication Date: September 2010
Teaser Quote: “He’s been bilious since he set foot in England. What a boor!” Victoria shook her head in irritation. “I wouldn’t marry Albert if he was the last prince on earth.”