Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Published by Shadow Mountain on October 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
Based on the true story of the free-spirited daughter of Queen Victoria.
Princess Louise’s life is upended after her father’s untimely death. Captive to the queen’s overwhelming mourning, Louise is forbidden to leave her mother’s tight circle of control and is eventually relegated to the position of personal secretary to her mother—the same position each of her sisters held until they were married.
Already an accomplished painter, Louise risks the queen’s wrath by exploring the art of sculpting, an activity viewed as unbefitting a woman. When Louise involves herself in the day’s political matters, including championing the career of a female doctor and communicating with suffragettes, the queen lays down the law to stop her and devotes her full energy to finding an acceptable match for her defiant daughter.
Louise is considered the most beautiful and talented daughter of Queen Victoria, but finding a match for the princess is no easy feat. Protocols are broken, and Louise exerts her own will as she tries to find an open-minded husband who will support her free spirit.
In the Shadow of a Queen is the story of a battle of wills between two women: a daughter determined to forge her own life beyond the shadow of her mother, and a queen resolved to keep the Crown’s reputation unsullied no matter the cost.
There’s a saying that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But sometimes, history repeats even when it is remembered. Because before Elizabeth II, the longest ruling monarch in British history, there was Victoria, relegated to being the second longest ruling monarch in that history. And there are definitely elements of that history that repeats because the patterns for it were set in protocol and tradition long before either was born.
Queen Victoria is the queen under whose shadow all of her children existed, but the one whose early life is examined in this fictional biography is that of Princess Louise, her fourth daughter and NINTH child. The focus is on Louise because she is the one who rebelled against her mother’s strictures the most in the end and became a talented and prolific artist and sculptor. Her statues of her mother are still on display at Kensington Palace and Lichfield Cathedral in England and McGill University in Canada.
In the Shadow of a Queen is a portrait of the unconventional princess as a girl and young woman, in the ten critical years of her life after the death of her beloved father, Prince Albert. It’s the story of Louise growing up in a household of never-ending mourning amid endless and often contradictory restrictions, trying to find a space for herself in a world that remained under the constant, depressing pall of her mother’s grief.
Rather than a portrait of a rebellious royal, In the Shadow of a Queen is instead the portrait of a girl growing into womanhood under the shadow of a mother who is both larger than life and a law unto herself as that princess sows the seeds of the rebel she will one day become. Once she emerges into her own light.
Escape Rating B: As the story of Princess Louise’s early years, this is a story of obedience and eventually manipulation and maneuvering rather than rebellion. And unfortunately, disobedience would have been a lot more interesting to read about than obedience turns out to be.
At the same time, while Louise’s personal perspective on events is that of a child in the early parts of the book, what she is observing is a fascinating portrait of life in the royal household in the 1860s and 1870s. It’s easy for the reader to get caught up in the day-to-day happenings, even when not all that much happens from day to day.
What grabbed me in particular were questions outside of Louise’s experience because they reflect more recent events. Like Victoria, Elizabeth II reigned long and well into her Prince of Wales’ adulthood. Bertie was 60 when he finally became King Edward VII after a scandal plagued marriage and a long and strained relationship with his mother because of those scandals. While King Charles III’s relationship with his mother seems to have been less fraught, the scandal part of their stories does have some parallels.
The restrictions on not just Louise’s life but on any possible husband for her and all of the rules and regulations – and interference from the Queen in their lives even before the wedding – can’t help but make readers reflect on how much things have remained the same even with more than a century in between.
In spite of that invasive, restrictive, and sometimes downright capricious interference, the story ends with Louise’s marriage to John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, heir to the Dukedom of Argyll. The story portrays their marriage as a love match, resulting in a happy ever after for the book that was not reflected in the historical record. But it does mark a convenient place to bring the story of Louise’s early years to a relatively optimistic conclusion.
This version of Louise’s story is an intimate portrait. While not told from directly inside Louise’s head, it is focused on her perspective and only deals with outside events as she would have known about them. A perspective that expands as she grows from a tween into a woman in her early twenties. It is a family portrait, just that the family in question was, at the time, the ruling family of an empire that spanned the globe.
However, In the Shadow of a Queen is not the only such portrait of Princess Louise to be published this year or even this season. An Indiscreet Princess by Georgie Blaylock, also focuses on Louise’s early adulthood, but more specifically looks at her artistic ventures outside of the Palace and her many rumored romances. I can’t resist comparing the one book to the other, so I’ll be reviewing Louise’s other fictionalized biography in the coming weeks.
Because whether one looks at her art, her romances or her strained relationship with the short but towering figure of Queen Victoria, her life and her times were absolutely fascinating. Just as In the Shadow of a Queen is a portrait of the artistic rebel as a young princess, the times in which she lived serve as a picture of the events and the family that shaped the world we live in today. For both good and ill.