Review: Ladies in Waiting by Laura L. Sullivan

Friday, September 9, 2011

Genre: historical fiction, young-adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 340 (unrevised NetGalley ARC)
Published: expected May 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

Mostly enjoyable, if lacking in certain areas, Ladies in Waiting is a more than adequate young-adult historical fiction. I will complain a mite about the title as there are technically no ladies involved; the story revolves around three young Elizabeths, each a maid-in-waiting for Queen Catherine of Braganza. Eliza, Beth and Zabby each differ from the other in status, wealth and dreams. Eliza, bright and dramatic, aims to use her father's wealth to achieve freedom, Beth longs for true love to set her free, while Zabby seeks knowledge more than anything else in the world. Each girl represents a different chance at life in restoration England under King Charles II: one has wealth, one has beauty and one has brains for which to make her way in the court. The three split perspectives of severely differing circumstances had a lot of potential to show a more rounded version of life within the kingdom at that time.  I had hoped for a more vivid portrayal of the Court and England itself; the novel focuses fairly narrowly upon the three Elizabeths and fails to provide a rich setting or background for the characters to occupy. I was left feeling rather "blah" at the end of the story, as none of the storylines grabbed me as truly original or as doing something truly creative with this era of history.

Eliza Parsloe, she of the extreme wealth and lineage of dirt, is a "provincial heiress" out of the country. Because of the dying wish of her mother, Eliza has what many girls of her time and age do not: the ability to approve of her husband before marriage. With such an unexpected and unlikely power for a woman of the 1660's, Eliza has the rare opportunity to dictate her own life on her own terms - or so she thinks. Sent to court to ostensibly wait on Queen Catherine but in reality dowse out a husband for her commoner father to use and exploit, Eliza finds herself in a situation she thought would never happen. Eliza is strident and willfull; at times the character was so irritating and unthinking I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop upon the poor playwright. Instead of inspiring sympathy for her plight with her deceitful father (he even plots to use her unwanted, previously rejected suitor to "rape her into marriage") I was simply eager for any protagonist besides Eliza to appear.

Elizabeth "Beth" Foljambe is the daughter of the syphilitic Countess of Enfield. With the pedigree that both her friends lack, Beth must catch herself a rick, noble husband in the vipers nest of Charles' court. Born of a Royalist family, Beth is only as important as her chastity; Beth's mother repeatedly tries to use her daughter's virginity to try to accumulate power. The sheer focus on Beth's worth as completely dependent on her purity was a harsh but sadly historically accurate portrayal of a woman's worth during the time. Beth is possibly the most sympathetic character of the story, with only Queen Catherine running her a close second. Beth is sweetand kind, and perhaps a bit too widely-eyed naive to survive for how long she has in the court. Her viper of a mother is a scene-stealer whenever she appears, though the scope of her character could have used some widening.

Zabby Wodewose, the final player in our trifecta of Elizabeths, hails from Barbados. She can be seen as a harbinger of change - a stranger from a strangle land with new ideas and theories. Returning to England with her beloved father (this is the one example shown of a healthy, functional relationship between parents and offspring of the three girls) after a number of years, Zabby's drive in life is to learn. Through a random happenstance, young Zabby saves the life of the King and her life is affected forever. Zabby started out easily as my favorite character, but the development and changes that occurred throughout the novel eroded my affection. She's spunky and truly clever, but becomes way too enamored with the King to focus: I disliked this revelation because knowledge is the love of Zabby's life not the King. Perhaps the point was to illustrate just how alluring the King was or how susceptible Zabby was to his charms, I am not sure. I just prefered the initial version of Ms. Wodewose. The relationship between the three maids shows far more camaraderie and love than any of the other women in the court do. It feels like a viable friendship, one that builds and grows as the girls go through trying experiences with one another.

The novel works, if it does not exactly excel. The writing can veer into too much showing very easily (and frequently), but it manages to engage the reader, thanks to agreeable, if not stellar, characters. The background characters do a fair job as well, and I found myself surprisingly fond of a number of the bit players (the vicious but cunning Lady Castlemaine was probably my favorite character to read/read about). Sullivan's Charles II does a nice job of continually stirring the pot, fearing conspiracy and seeing  rebellions everywhere to keep the Court's - and the reader's - tension running high. Catherine is both sympathetic and also aggravating, but provides a nice change from the relative immaturity of POV for the teenage girls. It may be a bit simple and bland, but falls far short of the worst historical fiction I've come across in the last year. I had just hoped for more from this particular novel. The lack of atmosphere and setting did the most to lower my expectations, but I'd recommend this to someone looking for an easy, simple historical fiction set in the 1660s.


  1. Hrm. I like the cover, a bit, but I judge the name Zabby. I'll probably pass on this but thanks for the honest review!

  2. I was put off by "Zabby" but it's better than the waaay overused "Lizzie" as a diminutive for Elizabeth.. what REALLY irked me was "Wodewose". I first thought it was a typo for "Wodehouse" but... no. Zabby Wodewose. XD


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