ARC Review: The Wild Princess by Mary Hart Perry
Author: Mary Hart Perry
Tittle: The Wild Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Defiant Daughter
Release: July 31st 2012
Series: Novels of Queen Victoria’s Daughters #1
Source: William Morrow
Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository
Four of the five daughters of England’s Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were regal, genteel, and everything a princess should be. But one was rebellious, scandalous, and untamed.
THIS IS HER STORY…
To the court and subjects of Queen Victoria, young Princess Louise — later the Duchess of Argyll — was the “Wild One.” Proud and impetuous, she fought the constraints placed on her and her brothers and sisters, dreamed of becoming an artist, and broke with a three-hundred-year-old tradition by marrying outside of the privileged circle of European royals. Some said she wed for love. Others whispered of a scandal covered up by the Crown. It will take a handsome American, recruited by the queen’s elite Secret Service, to discover the truth. But even as Stephen Byrne – code name the Raven – vows to risk his life to protect the royal family from violent Irish radicals, he tempts Louise with a forbidden love that could prove just as dangerous.
The Wild Princess is the debut of Mary Hart Perry, the first of five planned novels featuring the daughters of Queen Victoria of England. For those that can’t recite the entire list of England’s monarchs from William the Conqueror to the present (not that I know anyone that can do that…of course not…), Victoria was the reigning queen of England from 1837-1901, lending her name to the entire era: Victorian. She enjoyed a wildly romantic love match with her husband, Prince Albert, and together they produced nine children and married them into most of the major royal houses of Europe. Princess Louise, the heroine of our tale, was the exception. She became the first daughter of English royalty to marry a non-royal in over 300 years, and this story is a fictional account of her life.
The story begins with an emotional letter, written by Louise after her mother’s death, begging for forgiveness from an unknown person. It then reverts to 1871, to Louise’s wedding day, and procedes from there, interrupted by multiple flashbacks to events that took place some years earlier. In this way, with much foreshadowing of coming revelations and vague hand-wringing by the heroine about dramatic events in her past, we gradually fill in the missing pieces of Louise’s life, until at the end of the book, we skip back ahead and resume the tale just after the letter from page one has been written, but now with enough context to understand its meaning.
The focal character Ms. Perry has chosen for her novel is interesting, and historically, she’s ambiguous enough to leave the author with plenty of scope for artistic license, which she admits from the beginning to doing. At the end of the book, the author also helpfully clarifies which characters and events are factual and which are fictional. The prose is solid and well-written, if at times a touch too modern for the characters’ time and place. Not all readers will be disturbed by (or even notice) a Victorian man mentally telling himself, “Don’t go there!” but I did and was. I didn’t expect (or want!) the purest Dickensian verbiage to flow from these characters’ mouths, but just occasionally, I really wished the characters hadn’t verbally gone there.
The cast of characters was deftly and mercifully kept to a manageable size, despite the size of Victoria’s brood and the many people surrounding her and her family. I was never left trying to figure out who someone was and how they fit into the cast of thousands. However, despite narrating at times from the points of view of both main characters, the two protagonists, Princess Louise and Stephen Byrne, seemed to stay at one remove from the reader. The best characters in fiction are so vibrant, it seem like they would, without doubt, breathe and talk to you, if you could just figure out a way to free them from their paper prisons. Louise and Stephen lack this immediacy; they characters are being viewed through a pane of glass, rather than being practically skin-to-skin with the reader.
Queen Victoria could not seem to decide whether she wanted to be the villain of the piece or not. Often, her words, actions, and characterizations would paint her as a nearly unbearable individual, but never quite enough to totally write her off. Other times, either through exposition or the observations and thoughts of Louise and Stephen, the author would seem to instead be offering an apology or an exculpation for Victoria. Again, though, not strongly or convincingly enough to really make it stick.
The Wild Princess is, without a doubt, epic in scope. From pimps to princesses, cowboys to kilts, suffragists to starving artists, this book covers the spectrum. It tries to be a little of many things: a coming-of-age tale, a love story, a mystery, a commentary on social justice, and an historical political thriller. However, perhaps in an attempt to keep the book at a more manageable and less than epic length, none of these plot strands are really developed to their fullest. All of them are interesting, but the book would be the better for either a more ruthless focus or a higher page count. If you are a fan of historical fiction in general, or Victoriana in particular, this book is still definitely worth picking up. It’s a quick, easy, and enjoyable read.