Review: An Indiscreet Princess by Georgie Blalock

Review: An Indiscreet Princess by Georgie BlalockAn Indiscreet Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria's Defiant Daughter by Georgie Blalock
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: biography, historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow & Company on September 27, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From the acclaimed author of The Other Windsor Girl and The Last Debutantes comes a brilliant novel about Queen Victoria’s most rebellious and artistically talented daughter, Princess Louise, showcasing her rich life in Georgie Blalock’s signature flair.
Before Princes Margaret, before Duchess Meghan, there was Princess Louise: royal rebel.
As the fourth daughter of the perpetually in-mourning Queen Victoria, Princess Louise’s life is more a gilded prison than a fairy tale. Expected to sit quietly next to her mother with downcast eyes, Louise vows to escape the stultifying royal court. Blessed with beauty, artistic talent, and a common touch, she creates a life outside the walled-in existence of the palace grounds by attending the National Art Training School—where she shockingly learns to sculpt nude models while falling passionately in love with famed sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm.
Although Louise cultivates artist friends, artistic success, and a life outside the palace, she quickly learns that even royal rebels must heed the call of duty. For twenty years, Louise fights to maintain her relationship with Joseph and what freedom she can glean within the strict requirements of Queen Victoria’s court. When a near fatal accident forces her back under Queen Victoria’s iron rule, Louise must choose between surrendering to the all-consuming grief of lost love and dreams that plagued her mother or finding the strength to keep fighting for her unconventional life.

My Review:

Princess Louise in 1881

An Indiscreet Princess is the second book this season to present a fictionalized biography of Queen Victoria’s artistic, iconoclastic daughter Louise. Considering the life that she led, it’s not surprising that Louise has become the focus of more than one such book Instead it’s a wonder why her story hasn’t been told before.

Louise’s mother may have reigned over the sexually repressive regime that bears her name, but even the contemporary rumors about Louise’s behavior give the impression that Louise was anything but repressed – no matter how much her royal mother may have tried to make her toe the line of the straight and narrow.

But Louise, who managed to become known in her own right and in her own time as a talented and even successful sculptor, still had to fight that repression from, at the very least, the day her father Prince Albert died until Victoria herself either mellowed or died – whichever came first.

By all accounts, even though Queen Victoria’s power over her empire had been waning throughout her reign – in part due to her own actions or inactions – her rule over her family was nearly absolute. Especially over the lives of her daughters, who she expected to serve as her personal secretaries until she deigned to decide upon and preside over their marriages. And whose world she still expected to be the very center of for the rest of her – or their – lives.

But the center of Louise’s life was her art. No matter how much her imperial – and imperious – mother tried to restrict every aspect of her life – including how much training she would receive and how much – or how little – space she would be given to practice it. So she rebelled where she could and toed the line when she absolutely had to.

And managed to succeed – if not on her own terms at least on terms that both she and her mother could live with. At least some of the time.

Escape Rating B: Both In the Shadow of a Queen and An Indiscreet Princess fictionalize the life of the very same person. Meaning that the outlines of both stories are pretty much the same. But the way that those outlines are filled in is quite a bit different.

It’s as if the two Princesses Louise are twins who are living out the all-too-common scenario of a “good” twin and a “bad” twin. A scenario that occurs in many families, where one child is rewarded for being dutiful and obedient while the other gets attention the only way that remains to them – by acting out at every turn.

In the Shadow of a Queen told the story of the “good” twin. That Louise pursued her art relentlessly – and did clash with her mother because of it. But she was portrayed as a dutiful if reluctant personal secretary, and more distinctly in comparison with this book, her marriage to Lord Lorne was described as a love match between two people who liked and respected each other and expected to be as happy as their circumstances would allow. That version of Louise’s story also dismissed all of the rumors about her many reputed affairs and never even touched on the rumors that Lord Lorne was homosexual. That book ended just as they married, leaving open the possibility of a happy ever after that did not happen in real life.

An Indiscreet Princess, very much on the other hand, leans into all the salacious gossip and leans into so hard it falls over into more than a few pre- and post-marital beds. (It also explicitly reinforces the worst of the rumors about Queen Victoria’s behavior with her Scottish manservant John Brown) It is, admittedly, a much more fun account of Louise’s life than the other, a feeling that is helped by starting her story later, as she is inveigling her mother to let her attend art school, and a point where Louise has a bit more agency – or at least more awareness of just how little she has – than in Shadow which begins with Prince Albert’s death and glums its way through the worst of Victoria’s mourning years.

While the Princess in Indiscreet is more interesting to read about, because she thinks more and does more, this is also a story about a lot of privileged people being privileged and selfish and generally behaving fairly badly to each other while not considering ANY of the effects on anybody else. What seem like more frank portraits of everyone in the royal orbits is more interesting to read – as tell-all gossips often are – but doesn’t leave the reader with a whole lot of sympathy for much of anyone involved.

All of which is a very different reaction than I had to the author’s previous book about one of the royal family’s other notorious scapegraces, The Other Windsor Girl about the life of Princess Margaret. Which I liked quite a bit better because while the focus in that book was on Margaret, the story is told from an outsider’s perspective which lets us see, perhaps, a bit more clearly than Louise is able to see herself.

Review: Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by Agatha Christie et al.

Review: Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by Agatha Christie et al.Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by Naomi Alderman, Leigh Bardugo, Alyssa Cole, Lucy Foley, Elly Griffiths, Natalie Haynes, Jean Kwok, Val McDermid, Karen M. McManus, Dreda Say Mitchell, Kate Mosse, Ruth Ware
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Series: Miss Marple Mysteries
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow & Company on September 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A brand-new collection of short stories featuring the Queen of Mystery’s legendary detective Jane Marple, penned by twelve remarkable bestselling and acclaimed authors.
This collection of a dozen original short stories, all featuring Jane Marple, will introduce the character to a whole new generation. Each author reimagines Agatha Christie’s Marple through their own unique perspective while staying true to the hallmarks of a traditional mystery.

Naomi Alderman
Leigh Bardugo
Alyssa Cole
Lucy Foley
Elly Griffiths
Natalie Haynes
Jean Kwok
Val McDermid
Karen M. McManus
Dreda Say Mitchell
Kate Mosse
Ruth Ware

Miss Marple was first introduced to readers in a story Agatha Christie wrote for The Royal Magazine in 1927 and made her first appearance in a full-length novel in 1930’s The Murder at the Vicarage. It has been 45 years since Agatha Christie’s last Marple novel, Sleeping Murder, was published posthumously in 1976, and this collection of ingenious new stories by twelve Christie devotees will be a timely reminder why Jane Marple remains the most famous fictional female detective of all time.

My Review:

Unfortunately, Agatha Christie isn’t writing any new Marple stories, or for that matter any new Poirot stories. But she was the creator of the iconic “little old lady” amateur detective Miss Jane Marple and will be credited as such for as long as Miss Marple is read. And this collection of new Marple stories from the pens – or computers – of Dame Agatha’s successors in mystery is certain to keep Miss Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead in the minds and hearts of readers for another generation.

I have to confess that personally I prefer Poirot to Marple. It’s not so much about either of them as it is about the way they are treated and the world that surrounds them. Both are just a tad eccentric, a bit of an exaggeration in Miss Marple’s case while a huge understatement in Poirot’s, but because of both their respective genders and the times in which their stories are set Poirot’s eccentricities are considered a mark of his genius while Miss Marple is often disregarded and disrespected, sometimes even after she solves the case.

If Miss Marple had half of Poirot’s foibles she would have been locked up in a lunatic asylum. Men were allowed to be over-the-top, even to his degree, without being thought to be insane. Or hysterical as she would have been. Certainly, few would have taken her remotely seriously, discounting her because of her age and her gender.

While Christie got around some of the restrictions on women at the time by making Miss Marple an independent woman past a certain age who had outlived any male who might have had authority over her, the authors of this collection have taken that a step further by setting all of their stories rather later in her “career’, meaning that she already has a well-earned reputation for solving murders and has garnered a circle of influential friends in high places – at least among the police.

So she doesn’t face quite as much disrespect and disregard as she would have earlier. (It’s been decades since I read her first outing, A Murder in the Vicarage, so I just picked up a copy so I can read it again and see if memory and supposition are correct.)

One of the stories in this collection (The Second Murder at the Vicarage by Val McDermid) takes the reader back to that very place where Miss Marple solved her first case), while Miss Marple’s Christmas by Ruth Ware takes us back to St. Mary Mead for a traditional Christmas gathering Marple style, as Miss Marple finds herself solving a case of theft instead of indulging in the Christmas pudding.

Escape Rating B: For the most part, these stories were enjoyable as I read them but weren’t quite long enough to really dig into the mysteries. They also don’t feel remotely like ‘fair play’ mysteries as the detection and investigation seems to hinge a great deal on Miss Marple’s comparisons to people and situations in St. Mary Mead that we don’t know about. Her leaps of logic and inferences about human nature do give the reader an “A-ha!” moment when revealed but I never felt like I had enough to follow her trail.

I still had a good time reading this collection, and wouldn’t mind – AT ALL! – to see another collection like this one or something similar featuring my old friend Hercule Poirot. Alternatively, several of the authors in this collection of Miss Marple stories would make excellent candidates for writing a series of NEW Marple novels just as Sophie Hannah has taken up the task of writing the New Hercule Poirot series that began with The Monogram Murders.

Anyone who loves Miss Marple or is looking for a trip back to the Golden Age of mystery will enjoy this collection – and hope for more!