Author: Laura Purcell
Genre: historical fiction
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
London 1788. The calm order of Queen Charlotte’s court is shattered by screams. The King of England is going mad. Left alone with thirteen children and with the country at war, Charlotte has to fight to hold her husband’s throne. It is a time of unrest and revolutions but most of all Charlotte fears the King himself, someone she can no longer love or trust. She has lost her marriage to madness and there is nothing she can do except continue to do her royal duty.
Her six daughters are desperate to escape their palace asylum. Their only chance lies in a good marriage, but no prince wants the daughter of a madman. They are forced to take love wherever they can find it, with devastating consequences.
The moving true story of George III’s madness and the women whose lives it destroyed.
The story of Mad King George, despite the famous nickname and long-lived infamy for "losing the Colonies", has rarely featured in my historical fiction reading. Though I'm usually drawn to stories from earlier in English history (the wars! The religious conflicts!), Laura Purcell's deft and detailed novel about Charlotte and family was one of those historical fiction novels that succeeded in making me search out more information about these British monarchs. George's life is viewed through the lens of his wife and daughters, and it makes for a fascinating look at one of England's more eccentric Kings, and his unappreciated family.
Queen of Bedlam is told in three voices; that of the eponymous Queen Charlotte, and two Princesses, Royal (another Charlotte), and Sophia. I loved that this was really a story about the women -- it wasn't all concerned with the King or his condition (though both were important to the plot). These women have their own lives and experiences to filter the story through; they're drawn well and characterized evenly. The only issue is that there isn't much to differentiate between them. The POVs can sound alike, especially the younger narrators. I think the story had more of a flow with the first two, and found the late inclusion of a third to be odd and somewhat unnecessary.
As someone pretty unfamiliar with both the Georgian era and the Hanover dynasty, I thought that Laura Purcell did an excellent job if disseminating pertinent details about both items without overwhelming or losing the plot while doing so. The author obviously did her due diligence into the time and people she re-imagined. Queen of Bedlam feels like an authentic interpretation of the era and the historical figures. The historical note at the end is interesting, and helps understand how and why Purcell used her authorial discretion with facts and times.
An intriguing read with a less than perfect cast of characters, Laura Purcell's Queen of Bedlam is a great example of good, well-rounded historical fiction novel. The plot is compelling and original, the characters are dynamic or sympathetic, and the pacing is solid and reliable for the most part. The book is nearly four hundred pages, but it reads quickly and easily as the characters navigate the late 18th and early 19th centuries.