Although the sadness of the tale is unavoidable, there are many lively moments, and it’s full of well-rendered characters whose interactions held my attention. I empathized with Charlotte, who is forced to endure George’s erratic behavior, including his lusty pursuit of another woman; she comes to dread previously normal events such as sleeping alongside him in bed as much as she fears the anti-monarchical zeal sweeping through nearby France. At the same time, I couldn’t help siding with her restless daughters, who aren’t allowed to wed and who suffer not only their father’s madness but also their mother’s increasing bitterness and jealousy.
Wisely, Purcell chooses just two of their viewpoints to focus on: the younger Charlotte, nicknamed Royal, whose desire to marry and leave the court leads her into a match both problematic and rewarding in turns; and Sophia, daughter number five, whose passion for a socially inappropriate older man leads to trouble. Both young women are strong, likeable, and interesting, and given their intolerable situation, their misguided choices are hardly their fault.
Through their eyes, readers also get to observe their youngest sister, the beautiful Amelia, their father’s favorite; and their brother’s ill-chosen spouse, their cousin Caroline of Brunswick, whose outspoken ways and vulgar appearance makes her an unexpectedly fun distraction in the sisters' lives. How refreshing for a novel to show the much-maligned Caroline in a positive light!
The plot feels repetitive over the novel’s first third, with the king’s condition getting no better and his wife and children continuing to worry and growing more frustrated. However, Purcell doesn’t downplay their circumstances and, especially as the daughters grow older, allows their personalities to emerge as they – with great difficulty – struggle to pursue lives of their choosing.
Readers who grew up reading Jean Plaidy’s Georgian Saga may find themselves, like me, preferring Purcell’s storytelling ability due to her deeper characterizations and more realistic dialogue, among other factors. The author’s website details her plans for additional novels in the Hanoverian Series, each focusing on different women, and I'll be eagerly awaiting them.
Queen of Bedlam was published this week by Myrmidon (£8.99, pb, 432pp). This review forms part of the author's blog tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.