Author: Andrea Zuvich
Genre: historical fiction
Published: July 5 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Set in the tumultuous late 17th Century, His Last Mistress tells the true story of the final years of James Scott, the handsome Duke of Monmouth, and his lover Lady Henrietta Wentworth.
As the illegitimate eldest son of King Charles II, the Duke is a spoiled, lecherous man with both a wife and a mistress. However, this rakish libertine is soon captivated by the innocence of young Lady Henrietta Wentworth, who has been raised to covet her virtue. She is determined to spurn his advances, yet she cannot deny the chemistry between them. Will she succumb? At the same time, the Duke begins to harbour risky political ambitions which may threaten not only his life but also that of those around him.
His Last Mistress is a passionate, sometimes explicit, carefully researched and ultimately moving story of love and loss, set against a backdrop of dangerous political unrest, brutal religious tensions, and the looming question of who will be the next King.
Set predominately during the reign of England's "Merry Monarch" - aka King Charles II - His Last Mistress is the story of the king's eldest and illegitimate son, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. A rake, a fop, and a libertine, James's story is picked up later in his life - when he meets, falls in love with and changes for Lady Henrietta Wentworth, the eponymous mistress of the title. Their love story is played out against a backdrop of tragedy and rebellion, and Zuvich ably narrates their relationship and trials as a couple, as well as the larger political drama.
What mostly drew me to this story was the time and characters featured. I haven't read many historical fiction set during the 17th century in England, but the author has a keen eye for detail and for distinguishing between the many players. Though I went into His Last Mistress largely unaware of who the Duke of Monmouth was, the book easily establishes who is who and who is allied with whom. The Duke and Henrietta are well-drawn, and their is obvious chemistry between the two. The rest of the cast is largely one-dimensional outside of the two main characters, especially the antagonist of James, Duke of York - Charles' younger brother and heir (and also the future James II/VI). There is just not enough time to define and characterize everyone in so few pages, and the more minor characters suffer for that.
Though the narrative is more concerned with the romance for the majority of the two hundred pages, politics are important and serve as major plot points for His Last Mistress. James, despite his illegitimate status, hungers to be named as the heir to his Protestant father instead of his Roman Catholic uncle. Unwisely advised and manipulated by his own arrogance, the Duke is exiled, and eventually faces a darker fate than what he had hoped for. Several historical conspiracies and rebellions (The Rye House Plot, the Revolt of the West) take place within the time frame shown and have important repercussions for everyone in the novel. It's easy to spoil what happens to the historical figures depicted, but it was a pleasure to finish the novel without discovering the outcome beforehand. Zuvich clearly has a passion for this time and these people and it readily shows in her writing.
The book's strong points rest on the research obviously done, and with the author's keen eye for detail and description. I did have issues with some of the dialogue -- it can come off as very stilted and unnatural, especially in the beginning - but the story improves as it continues. His Last Mistress is a solid historical read, only hampered by the shortness of its pages, which, in turn, has an effect on the characters themselves, and the occasional stumble with the dialogue. The book ends with some finality, and though there won't be a sequel, the author is releasing a book about the story of William and Mary -- who are intimately connected to the characters in His Last Mistress. It's well worth the $2.99 price for a kindle copy -- especially for royal enthusiasts who want something other than Tudor fiction.