Using the strength and intelligence they were born with, the novel’s characters weather the shifting political climate over time. Lady Diana de Vere and the man she weds, Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Albans, are both prominent at court. Born of parents who were hardly faithful to one another, Diana guards her virtue, and her loyalty endears her to the future Queen Mary. Diana’s “frankness and acuity of mind” is of great benefit throughout her life.
Meanwhile, Charles paves his own path, never able to forget that of all the illegitimate sons of Charles II, his mother, former orange seller and actress Nell Gwyn, was of low birth: “Royal blood and military heroics could not eradicate the indelible stain of bastardy or the stench of the stage.”
Diana and Charles come to love one another deeply, but their differing views on married life (he becomes an army officer, detesting the courtier’s life she was born to) creates occasional disharmony, as does a hidden deception about their engagement. Two additional viewpoints add further texture: that of Diana’s father, the Earl of Oxford, who makes plain his dislike of James II’s tyranny and religious intolerance; and Mary herself, a gentle, intelligent woman and devoted wife crushed by her husband’s infidelity. Hers is a clearly admiring portrait.
Fans of royal fiction of the juicier sort may find the approach sedate at first, but it’s actually refreshing in its lack of gaudiness. The historical background is well-defined and the characters genuine, and the author’s love for the finer details of upper-class life in the Stuart era, such as painting, architecture, and gardening, shines through. At these and other moments, reading the novel itself gives the feel of stepping into an English garden, one filled with light, plentiful color, and cultured elegance.
A Pledge of Better Times was published by Gallica Press in April in ebook and paperback ($5.99/$14.95, 400pp). Thanks to the author for providing me with a copy for the virtual book tour. See Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for additional stops.