Queen of Bedlam by Laura Purcell
Author: Laura Purcell
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / UK / Royalty / Marriage / Mother-Daughter Relationships / Mental Illness)
Publisher/Publication Date: Myrmidon Books Ltd (6/10/2014)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: When King George, beloved husband and father, goes mad, his wife and daughters struggle to remain loyal while their own lives fall apart.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: Guiltily, I do -- it's so ridiculous and vampy (which isn't the plot of this book) but I adore the dress and the hair.
I'm reminded of...: Marci Jefferson, Karleen Koen, Anne Easter Smith
First line: This would be the last time; Charlotte had made her decision.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.
Why did I get this book?: Had heard good things about it!
Review: I can't squee enough about this novel -- it was so fascinating, disturbing, intriguing, and exciting it pulled me out of my reading slump -- and is another fabulous example of great, escapist historical fiction.
Set in the late 18th/early 19th century during George III's reign, the novel follows his wife Charlotte and a handful of their 14 children (primarily their daughters). George -- "mad" King George as well as the hated George of the American Revolution-- is a beloved husband and father, and his wife and daughters flock to his side when his mysterious illness manifests in bouts of mania, violence, and occasional cruelty. As time goes on, however, the constant threat of his madness provokes everyone to begin to look out for themselves, fracturing the family, and costing his daughters enormously.
Purcell manages to make George's chronic mental illness read compellingly, and I couldn't help but feel sympathetic toward him. His wife, Charlotte, is harder to like -- she cruelly depends on her children, mostly her daughters, to help her deal with her changing husband -- and her choices really stuck in my craw. The myriad children were distinctive individuals, but the story focused mostly on the Royal Princess Charlotte and Sophia -- both of whom had tragic dramas I loved/felt awful about.
Despite the heavy tragedy implicit in the plot, the story really races, and didn't feel crushingly dark or depressing. Purcell offers happiness to her characters when she can, and moments of grace when she can't.
Originally a self-pubbed bestseller -- as God Save the King -- it's been picked up by Myrmidon. I can't speak to any changes made between editions as I've not read the original release, but I'm delighted that it will find new readers. This edition has a family tree and a brief historical note about what details she fictionalized.
Purcell has ambitious plans to tackle the Hanoverian/Georgian dynasty in fiction so those who are unfamiliar with this family but enjoy royal drama will have some meaty escapades to dig into. I'll be eagerly anticipating her next release!