Friday, November 9, 2007

The Captive Queen of Scots

I finally finished this one today (sorry, it's been that kind of month).

The Captive Queen of Scots, as the title implies, begins shortly before Mary, Queen of Scots is imprisoned at Lochleven and covers her flight to England, her captivity there, and her eventual execution.

Like most Plaidy novels, this one isn't for those who like a lot of action. Most of what there is here consists of Mary moving from one stronghold to another, and although there's some intrigue and plotting, most of it takes place offstage. Instead of sweeping drama, we mostly see the domestic interactions between Mary, her faithful followers, and her captors, though there are a few catty scenes involving the vain, jealous Elizabeth. As Plaidy well illustrates, having a captive queen in one's charge was by no means an easy task, and we see how the job of jailer affects various families, from that headed by the Earl of Moray's doting mother to that headed by the strong-willed Bess of Hardwick.

Mary as portrayed by Plaidy is an appealing character, impulsive, generous, and fatally unwary. A number of other people move in and out of the novel, and Plaidy made several of them, such as Bess of Hardwick, sufficiently interesting so as to make me want to read more about them.

Hearing today of Reay Tannahill's death made me think of how her novel on Mary. Fatal Majesty, compares to Plaidy's. In one respect, the two are mirror opposites. Whereas Tannahill's novel is concerned, at least in the latter part, more with the machinations regarding Mary at Elizabeth's court and in Scotland rather than with the captive Mary, Plaidy's novel always has Mary at its center. So those who prefer intrigue should go for Tannahill; those who prefer a quieter look at Mary herself should go for Plaidy.

On another note, I'll be volunteering at the county library's book sale next week, which is not a particularly onerous task because volunteers get to buy books at a discount (not to mention get to them ahead of the crowd). Last year I scored lots of Plaidys; this year, I'm hoping for similar success.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

October Plaidy Update

I started The Reluctant Queen, but couldn't finish it. This wasn't so much Plaidy's fault as the fact that I've read too many Ricardian novels recently, and The Reluctant Queen takes pretty much the usual pro-Richard stance as the rest of them. It's one I recommend, though, to those who haven't read quite so much about the Wars of the Roses. Here's a less jaded review from Romance Reviews Today.

Speaking of Plaidy, my husband was digging through my mother-in-law's house a few weeks ago and pulled out a 1947 edition of Beyond the Blue Mountains! My mother-in-law's not a historical fiction fan, so goodness knows how this got there--probably she bought it in a lot at an auction. Makes me wonder what else in the Plaidy department is lurking in her house!

I have started a new Plaidy read, The Captive Queen of Scots. I just began reading today, but so far I'm quite impressed. It's a reissue of a 1963 novel, and it feels less rushed than some of Plaidy's later works. This time, I promise a real review.

Finally, I'm adding a poll, so be sure to weigh in!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Rose Without a Thorn

After a Plaidy hiatus, I started re-reading The Rose Without a Thorn (Katherine Howard) today.

This was one of the first Plaidy novels I read. In the several years that have passed since, I've read a number of other novels about Katherine Howard, and I must say that this one surpasses most of them. Philippa Gregory's The Boleyn Inheritance (in which Katherine is one of three major female characters) does do a good job of capturing Katherine's youthful giddiness, I think, but Plaidy's approach--a subdued Katherine looking back upon her life and her mistakes--works well too.

While in the bookstore the other day, I admired the new edition of The Reluctant Queen (Anne Neville, Richard III's queen). As I have a perfectly readable, albeit homely, mass-market paperback of it, I couldn't bring myself to splurge on the new edition, but I'll be re-reading the novel soon for this blog anyway. (Daphne shows several editions on her blog. I have the fourth cover (the one showing Anne with the great big pointy hat. Watch out for breezes, Anne!) Arleigh has also reviewed this one.

Here's a review by Pat of The Italian Woman--one I haven't read before, and want to.

Finally, Crown Historical is running a Jean Plaidy competition in conjunction with the Historical Fiction bulletin board, a great site for lovers of historical fiction from all authors. Check it out here. There's still time to join the board and enter! The prize? Something we all love--books!

Friday, August 31, 2007

A Plaidy Cover Artist

While surfing the other day, I came across a mention of this site, by cover artist Elaine Gignilliat. Gignilliat mostly does covers for romance novels, but she's also illustrated other genres, including several Plaidy novels, the cover illustrations of which can be seen (and purchased) here. Gignilliat did illustrations for some Philippa Carr and Victoria Holt novels (including The Queen's Confession) as well.

This was a fun site to visit, especially the section on Creating a Book Cover (which shows a Victoria Holt cover in the making).

Friday, August 17, 2007

He's Everywhere

While working on an article about Jean Plaidy (yay! finished), I had cause to look at some of my old Fawcett editions of Plaidy, and I suddenly realized something (OK, it's hot here, and I'm a bit slow): the covers of The Queen From Provence, Hammer of the Scots, and The Vow on the Heron all used the same model for the king. He's doing different things on each cover, of course--preparing to smooch a gorgeous blonde on a white horse in The Queen From Provence, nibbling the ear of a fiery brunette on Hammer of the Scots, and angling for a kiss from a blonde with a Farrah Fawcett hairdo while standing aboard a ship on The Vow on the Heron--but it's definitely the same chap, with crisply curling blondish brown hair and a little moustache. On Hammer of the Scots, he has a short beard. He's wearing the same crown on all three covers.

Sadly, my digital photography skills haven't yet allowed me to get a nice close-up, but until I do, you may be able to get a hint from these covers:

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Vintage Snark

While researching my Plaidy article, I came across a December 7, 1947, review in The New York Times of Beyond the Blue Mountains, Plaidy's first novel written under the Plaidy name. (Edit: Make that the second Plaidy novel. Thanks, Sarah!)

The reviewer is rather unimpressed: "This novel sings of illegitmate ladies and philandering men, and a long-winded, blowsy song it is. . . . This novel of generations is here coupled with a sampling of Amber-class heroines to produce a fiction so foolish and formula that its sponsors have seen fit in one place to label the creation 'A Romantic Novel.' It should offer limited appeal exclusively to readers of whatever that is."

Whew! And you thought historical fiction took some licks nowadays!

After three more paragraphs, in which the reviewer (identified as "B.V.W.") proceeds to give away most of the plot, he or she (odds are that it's a he) concludes, "It is pleasant to note, from the author's picture on the dust jacket, that she bears a winsome and charming resemblance to the British musical-comedy actress Jessie Matthews. Perhaps Miss Plaidy has missed her calling."

Well, no. Rather, millions of Plaidy sales later, it appears that B.V.W. sure missed the boat.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Review Roundup

Royalty Reviews has put up several reviews of some Plaidy novels over the past few days, including this one. And Daphne has finished her reading of the Plantagenet saga with the review here.

And here's a review of The Rose Without a Thorn by Acr2angel. And, on the subject of Henry VIII's wives, another review of The Lady in the Tower by Alita.

Finally, here's a review that Arleigh did in May of Passage to Pontefract.

If I've missed a recent one, please let me know!

I scored a couple of Plaidys on ebay the other day and am reading Red Rose of Anjou, about Margaret of Anjou. Interesting, as it covers the period of the Wars of the Roses I'm least familiar with, that up to the Duke of York's death.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Lady in the Tower

I finished The Lady in the Tower today, about, of course, Anne Boleyn. I suspect this book is to Plaidy what The Other Boleyn Girl is to Philippa Gregory: if you've read one Plaidy book, this is probably it. It's one of the later Plaidys, published in the United States in 1986, and not surprisingly, it was one of the first two Plaidy novels to be reissued by Three Rivers Press. Judging from the very rumpled state of my library copy, it's been quite a popular read.

This was actually a re-read of this novel for me. I read it several years ago, when I was just getting interested in historical fiction in a big way, and it's probably the first novel I'd read about Anne Boleyn. Having read a number of novels about Anne since, I was pleased to see how well it compared to more recent efforts.

Like many other novels about doomed queens, The Lady in the Tower is narrated in the first person by the heroine on the eve of her execution. (Question: are there novels about doomed kings told in the first person on the eve of the hero's execution? I can't remember a single one if so.) Anne looks back to her childhood at Hever, her intellectually stimulating time at the French court, her thwarted romance with Henry Percy, and her relationship with Henry VIII. She tries to understand the mistakes she's made, and though she judges Henry harshly, she's not inclined to let herself off easily either.

Those who have been accustomed to more sensational portraits of Anne won't find one here. Anne doesn't poison anyone, sleep with anyone besides Henry, engage in wild outdoors sex, or speak in modern American slang. Plaidy's prose, however, is rather flat compared to that of some of her more recent counterparts. There's some clunky dialogue, in particular that between Anne and her brother, and the chapters in which Henry schemes to divorce Catherine tend to drag, though a reader who is new to the history involved might not think so. The first person narrative imposes its own restrictions; by being limited to Anne's perspective, we miss out on other potentially fascinating ones, such as those of Anne's male courtiers.

Still, Plaidy tells an absorbing story, and her Anne is a sympathetic, yet flawed heroine. Those who are new to the story of Henry VIII and his six wives would be well advised to start their fictional journey here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Sweatin' to the Plaidy, and a Question

It being a holiday today, I spent the afternoon at the gym. This time I had the foresight to bring a book along--Jean Plaidy's The Lady in the Tower. I read it several years ago, but I thought it'd be interesting to re-read it to see how its portrayal of Anne Boleyn stacked up to later novels about her.

Usually I stop after about 10 minutes on the treadmill, not because I get tired but because I get bored. This time, however, with Plaidy for company, I managed over 20 minutes, and a full mile! (For the record, I can read about 28 pages of Plaidy per mile.) The moral here is that Jean Plaidy is not only a diverting read, but good for your health.

Anyway, I'm working on an article about the reissue of Jean Plaidy's novels. In conjunction with that, I have some questions to pose to you Plaidy fans out there: What appeals to you about Plaidy's novels? Which ones would you like to see reissued? Do you have a preference for Plaidy's novels over other historical fiction, and if so, why? Inquiring minds (or my mind, anyway) want to know!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

In My Absence . . .

Though I've been pitifully inattentive to this blog during the last few weeks, you'll be pleased to know that not everyone out there has been so slothful. Over at the Historical Fiction bulletin board, a thread has been started just for Plaidy's novels. So if you're a Plaidy fan, sign up for the bulletin board (it's fast and there's a great group of members there) and start chatting!

There's been some discussion on one of the groups I frequent about the popularity of female characters in historical fiction versus male ones. These days, females seems to be more in vogue. I'm wondering if that's one of the reasons for Plaidy's continuing popularity--so many of her novels focus on women, and many of them on figures who have been relatively neglected in historical fiction.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Italian Woman--A Link

Here's an in-depth review of Jean Plaidy's The Italian Woman, done on the Royalty Reviews blog. Another one to search out!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Plaidy Penmanship

Ever wondered what Jean Plaidy's signature looked like? Here's a site with an example.

Very nice and legible.

I'm going through a Plaidy-less period at the moment, but I should be rectifying the problem soon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What's In a Title?

Looking at the back matter to The Queen's Secret, I've noticed that some of the upcoming Plaidy reissues are getting new titles:

Myself My Enemy, about Henrietta Maria, is going to be entitled Loyal in Love.

The Pleasures of Love, about Catherine of Braganza, is becoming The Merry Monarch's Wife.

William's Wife, about Mary, wife of William the Orange, is becoming The Queen's Devotion.

What do you think of these new titles? I think Myself My Enemy was somewhat better suited than the new title for the Henrietta Maria book, given the mood of the book, which is that of someone looking back on her mistakes and regretting some of her actions. Still, Henrietta Maria was certainly loyal. I did think that The Pleasures of Love was somewhat misleading for the Catherine of Braganza book, since poor Catherine is one of the few people in the novel who isn't enjoying the pleasures of love all that much. (And there is the difficulty of walking into a bookstore and demanding The Pleasures of Love; unless one hastens to mention Jean Plaidy, goodness knows what the clerk might pull up on the computer.)

William's Wife is definitely a dud of a title, but I'm not sure The Queen's Devotion is much of an improvement. It has a certain yawn-inducing quality to it. Given that one of Sarah Churchill's nicknames for William was "Caliban," I would have called it Caliban's Wife. But alas, no one ever asks me about these things.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Queen's Secret

Here's a timely Plaidy review: The Queen's Secret, reissued recently. It's about Katherine of Valois, queen to Henry V and secret wife of Owen Tudor.

Katherine tells her story in the first person, beginning with her miserable, insecure childhood in France with her mentally ill father and her corrupt mother and ending with her forcible separation from the love of her life, Owen Tudor.

Plaidy's depiction of Katherine's childhood and its effects on her as a woman gives her a certain psychological depth, and though Katherine is ultimately helpless to prevent her fate, she preserves a certain dignity and strength about her that keeps her in the reader's sympathies. Plaidy also is good at conveying the mixed feelings that Katherine has as a French princess married to an English king, a situation that makes her position in both countries difficult.

I did find the structure here--it's one of those novels where the narrator looks back upon her life as she prepares for death--a bit limiting. Although we know from history what was to become of Owen Tudor and Katherine's children after her death, the novel leaves their stories unresolved, so there's still a sense of being left hanging when the novel ends.

From what I've read after reading this novel, little is known about how the relationship of Owen Tudor and Katherine came about. I thought that Plaidy's version of it was plausible and that Katherine's willingness to risk all for love showed an appealing, and believable, reckless streak in her character.

All in all, a worthy addition to your Plaidy shelf, either in this spanking new version or in one of the older ones.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Passionate Enemies

As I mentioned, I've been reading The Passionate Enemies, which I finished a few days ago. It's about King Stephen and the Empress Matilda's battle for the throne.

This book will inevitably be compared to When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Penman, who covers considerably more ground and whose characters have more psychological depth. Plaidy, however, devotes more time to Henry I than Penman did, so her novel doesn't feel like Penman Lite, at least in the first half. I also thought that Plaidy did a good job of portraying Queen Matilda (Stephen's wife, as opposed to the Empress Matilda) as a formidable woman in her own right; she got sort of lost to me in the Penman novel, where the author seemed to prefer the strong, strident Empress to the strong, quiet Queen. The Empress, however, is portrayed by Plaidy as a shrill harpy with little common sense, so Empress admirers will undoubtedly prefer the more sympathetic portrait of her that Penman draws.

As I mentioned in my last post, in The Passionate Enemies, Plaidy accepts the notion, since discredited, that Stephen and the Empress Matilda were lovers. I don't know whether the notion was generally accepted when Plaidy was writing this novel or whether Plaidy simply thought it made for a better story, but I wish it had stayed in the shadowland of unutilized plotlines. Its effect was to make Stephen seem an utter fool who is guided by his nether regions instead of by his brain, as when he allows the Empress to proceed unhindered to Bristol simply because they've had a satisfying session in bed after being long parted. Even when he's taken prisoner by the Empress, Stephen still seems hopeful that she'll take him to her bed instead of to a dungeon. I'm no expert on this period of history, but I think the real-life Stephen was considerably more intelligent than he's portrayed here as being.

On the plus side, this novel does read quickly, and I did like the sympathetic portrait of Queen Matilda. All in all, though, in the battle of the P's, Penman prevails over Plaidy here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Star of Lancaster

Now that Victoria Victorious is off my plate, I'm back reading my Plaidys with a vengeance. Yesterday, I finished The Star of Lancaster.

I greatly preferred The Star of Lancaster to Victoria Victorious. For one thing, The Star of Lancaster is written in the third person, which avoids the somewhat blinkered perspective that bothered me in the Victoria novel. The other thing is that I simply found the events in The Star of Lancaster more gripping than those in Victoria Victorious. It seemed that more was at stake for the people involved.

The Star of Lancaster opens near the end of Richard II's reign (his story is told more fully in Passage to Pontefract) and ends with the death of Henry V, so it covers a lot of ground in a short space of time. Despite this, the novel didn't feel rushed to me. It seemed to cover all of the important events of the time, not in depth, to be sure, but not once-over-lightly either.

Though most of the events are seen from the viewpoint of Henry IV and Henry V, Plaidy also gives a great deal of attention to the women in their lives. She also takes us inside the French court.

The downside? Plaidy's prose here is, well, prosaic; chapters that should be gripping, like that dealing with Agincourt, are somewhat plodding. On the other hand, a while back I tried reading Rosemary Hawley Jarman's Crown in Candlelight, which covers many of the same events, and found I just couldn't get through it, between the visionary Welshwoman who kept popping up when I hoped she had gone away and the style, which could be called lyrical or purple, depending upon your point of view. Given a choice between them, I'd choose Plaidy, but it largely comes down to a matter of taste, mine being for uncluttered prose and Welshwomen without visions.

Next on my Plaidy list? I'm getting through The Passionate Enemies, about Stephen and Matilda, at a rapid pace. Plaidy's novel does revolve around the now-discredited notion that Stephen and Matilda were lovers, but as there's far more going on in the novel than their brief affair, it's proving to be quite interesting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Finally Finished Victoria Victorious

Yessir, it's been a long haul, but I finally closed Victoria Victorious yesterday. It's told in the first person by Queen Victoria and spans the period from her childhood until near the end of her life.

An unfortunate thing about this book is its alliterative but undescriptive title. It suggests that Victoria triumphs over adversity in some way, and at least as far as this book goes, she doesn't. She's not victorious or defeated; she simply lives a long, full life.

Plaidy succeeds in making Victoria a complex character. She's quite often stubborn, selfish, and insular, yet the reader rather likes her at the same time for her tenacity and for her spirit. These qualities are most apparent in the first half of the novel, where Victoria has to deal with her interfering mother and her beloved but priggish husband.

The focus of this novel is on Victoria's relationships with others, not the events of the day, and this insularity--heightened by the first person narration--was to me the great defect in this novel. Though major events--the Chartist movement, the Crimean War, and so forth--are mentioned, there's little sense of how they came about or what Victoria thought of them. We hear from Victoria which prime ministers she likes and doesn't like, and we're told which party they represent, but there's little real sense of the politics of the day. There's also very little sense of the enormous changes that were taking place; no one seems to have invited Victoria to the Industrial Revolution. When toward the end of the novel, someone mentions a telegraph, I was frankly surprised, for up to then there'd been no indication whatsoever of such technology. Indeed, I don't think there's even mention of the railways here.

All in all, this is a pleasant read if you're interested in Victoria's domestic life, but those who are looking for something deeper will likely be disappointed.

In other Plaidy news, check out Tanzanite's Book Covers blog, where she's posted some cheesy Plaidy paperback covers.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Plaidy Comes to the New World--Another Link

Here's a link to a review by Gray, of Romance Reviewed, of Jean Plaidy's novel about John Smith and Pocahontas, The King's Adventurer--an interesting change from the novels about English royalty we usually associate with Plaidy. Another one to search out (per Gray, it may also be known as This Was a Man).

Victoria Victorious, and A Couple of Links

I've been reading Victoria Victorious, so look for a review soon. It's fairly interesting, so far. Though I've read a lot of Victorian novels, I don't know that much about Victoria herself, other than the very basics. It was interesting to see her portrayed, in the early part of her reign at least, as a bit of a brat, and Albert as a prig.

While I solider on with Victoria (long reign, long novel), here's a couple of Plaidy links for your perusal. Gata has a nice appreciation of Plaidy here. And here's a review by Kirsten of In the Shadow of the Crown.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Plaidy Goes Slumming

Now, if Jean Plaidy's name wasn't on the cover of this 1952 paperback (a Pyramid Books Giant), would you have guessed who wrote it? Be honest, now.

The front cover isn't the only fun thing about this historical novel (about Jane Shore, of course). The back cover teases us with "From the king's boudoir to a prison for prostitutes!" Inside, there's a short biographical note stating that Jean Plaidy became "a best-selling novelist after successive steps as a secretary, rare gem salesman and housewife."

The back contains even more treats. For those who didn't have the nerve to walk into a bookstore, the publisher offered order coupons to order titles such as Cage of Lust ("The stark human drama of a love-starved young girl's passion and torment for her own father"), Teen-Age Vice! ("Inspired by J. Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I., this book rips the veil off the vice racket, juke joint binges, cabins for the night, prisons that pervert, the smut peddlers, lonely heart clubs"), and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. No, I don't see the connection between Wilkie Collins and Teen-Age Vice! either, except that in 1952 they each cost 35 cents, plus 5 cents for postage and handling.

Things get even cheaper on the previous page, with 25-cent offerings such as French Doctor ("His lady patients tempted him!"), Palm Beach Apartment ("Strange love story of a young girl and her benefactor!"), Farm Girl ("In the city--they would have called her a juvenile delinquent!), The Divided Path ("The story of a homosexual!"), and Blonde Mistress ("Daring expose of illicit love!). Somehow, Guy de Maupassant squeezed his way onto this page with The House of Madame Tellier and Other Stories, which merited the feeble blurb of "An exciting collection by the famous French storyteller!" Coming between Chain Gang ("Our most brutal prison system!) and Swamp Girl ("She had to choose between white man and black!"), poor Maupassant didn't stand a chance.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Plaidy Goes to the Dogs

As you can see, the UK reissue of The Revolt of the Eaglets has quite a clever variation on the ever-popular headless woman cover:

Maybe this will start a trend--I see possibilities for all sorts of combinations here. Anne Boleyn with Purkoy, perhaps.

Speaking of covers, there's a nice gallery of them here at Fantastic Fiction. My favorite is the one from Red Rose of Anjou. It's probably safe to say that the hunky guy on the cover isn't Henry VI.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dropping By With Some Links

Although I've been a slacker in the Plaidy department lately, others have been reading her. Here's a post from I Heart Books about The Shadow of the Pomegranate, about Katherine of Aragon. It's a UK edition, evidently, with a very pretty cover. (But do pomegranates really cast that large of a shadow?)

And Daphne's been reading Passage to Pontefract, about Richard II and with a delightfully cheesy cover. (Note how much alike "Pomegranate" and "Pontefract" sound.)

Finally, speaking of Richards, here's the cover for the upcoming reissue of The Reluctant Queen, about Anne Neville, Richard III's wife. I rather like this one; although I have it in paperback, I may buy it just for the purty cover.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Caroline, the Queen

I've been writing more than reading lately, but I haven't neglected Plaidy entirely, having recently finished Caroline, the Queen, about (you guessed) Caroline, queen to George II. This is a continuation of Queen in Waiting, reviewed in my last post.

This will be a rather cursory review, because the book's not all that fresh in my mind. It's entertaining, which is remarkable considering that no one in it, including Caroline herself, is particularly sympathetic. That's probably one of the reasons the book is amusing, actually--it's fun, in a way, to see people whom one doesn't like fall out with each other.

There's a certain amount of drollery here, particularly when George II writes to Caroline to get advice as to how to win over various potential mistresses. (He can't imagine why his wife would find this off-putting.)

I'm at a bit of a loss as to what Plaidy to read next. I've been in a thirteenth-century mood lately, so I may try to resume The Battle of the Queens, though I put it down previously and didn't have the urge to finish it. I read The Queen from Provence last year. As I recall, I found it decidedly a mixed bag, but I may give it another whirl.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Queen in Waiting

I finished Queen in Waiting today. As I mentioned before, this historical novel, published originally in 1967, is the story of Caroline of Ansbach, wife to the future George II, before she became queen.

(By the way, this book, like its predecessor, has a very tasteful cover--some well-dressed men and women standing in front of a grand house with a Grecian sculpture in the foreground. I'm really missing the tacky clinch covers that grace some of my Plantagenet Plaidys.)

This book starts out rather gloomily, with Caroline's spiritless mother, Eleanor, making a disastrous second marriage that nearly results in her being poisoned. Fortunately, smallpox saves Eleanor by widowing her a second time, and with Eleanor's decline and death soon following, the story switches to the much more interesting figure of Caroline herself. We follow Caroline into her marriage with George Augustus, whose father is destined to become King George I of England. In what would apparently become a Hanoverian family tradition, George I and George Augustus hate each other heartily, and their jockeying for power once the family moves from Hanover to England forms most of the plot of the novel.

Caroline is an intelligent, shrewd opportunist who is quick to take advantage of George I's unattractive personality by ingratiating herself with the people. Though George I succeeds in getting control of some of Caroline's children, Caroline is no victim like her mother; the fight never goes out of her. I also liked George Augustus's mother-in-law, Sophia, who is pleased when George Augustus takes up with an English mistress: "It should improve his English," she tells the furious Caroline. Sophia is one of several cheerfully cynical characters here.

There are some repetitive moments; we're reminded way too often that George I has locked up his wife because of her love affair.

Amusingly, once the Hanoverians move to England, Plaidy reminds us of their heavy German accents by having the Prince and Princess of Wales speak sentences such as these: "Ve vill think of something, my tearest." This usually works well enough, but it tends to undermine Plaidy's more dramatic moments.

All in all, though, this novel left me looking forward to more dysfunctional family fun with its sequel, Caroline, the Queen.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Blog? What Blog?

It's been a while, hasn't it?

I've been reading Queen in Waiting, about Caroline, wife to the future George II, who, as the novel's title implies, is waiting for George I to hurry up and die so she can be queen. (Except that Hurry Up and Die Already probably wouldn't have gone over too well with the publisher's marketing department.) It's an enjoyable read about the Hanoverians, and so far I haven't had the difficulty I had when reading a later novel in the series, The Third George, where memories of "Blackadder" kept intruding.

Anyway, more to come.

Here, in the meantime, is Tanzanite's take on Plaidy's Norman trilogy. Evidently this wasn't one of Plaidy's finer moments, but when one's quite prolific I suppose that a few duds are inevitable.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Heads, You Lose

Sarah has posted this lovely cover of a reissue of Jean Plaidy's Murder Most Royal, about Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. As Sarah points out, the cover is quite apt.

I read this book early last year and enjoyed it thoroughly. Here's a mini-review from my other blog (bear in mind that when I wrote it, I hadn't read as much Plaidy as I have now):

I was very impressed by Murder Most Royal, which from its original copyright date of 1949 must have been one of Plaidy's earliest novels. In many of Plaidy's novels, particularly the later ones, I get the sense that she's writing straight from notes or reference materials, with very little time spent on developing character and with dialogue that is little more than exposition. This novel, by contrast, develops character at a leisurely pace and has characters who speak to each other instead of to the reader. I also liked the way Plaidy interspersed episodes from Anne Boleyn's life with those of Catharine Howard's life.

William's Wife

William's Wife, told by Queen Mary, spans the time period from Mary's childhood to the day that she recognizes that she has contracted a fatal case of smallpox.

I found this novel readable and reasonably interesting, but I can't put it on the same level as The Queen's Favourites (Yay! I remembered the "u") or The Haunted Sisters. The book covers most of the events that are in the other two novels, particularly The Haunted Sisters, and Mary's perspective on these events simply isn't compelling enough to merit her first-person retelling of them. If Mary had a distinctive narrative voice or was more given to making sardonic comments about her contemporaries, it would be a different matter, but unfortunately the prose here is a bit plodding and repetitive. Mary also is a more competent and able person in The Haunted Sisters than she is here. All in all, her personality in this novel is rather muted.

William's character also suffers here. In The Haunted Sisters, he's reasonably complex, not all that likable but not a villain either, and he is genuinely fond of Mary, albeit poor at demonstrating it. (Indeed, the real-life William seems to have been deeply attached to Mary, at least during the latter part of the marriage, and was visibly grieved when she fell ill.) In this novel, though, William's simply an insensitive jerk whom one wishes Mary (or better yet, Sarah Churchill) would give a swift kick.

All in all, a middling Plaidy.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Queen's Favourites

(I keep having to remember to add that "u." Though this was an US edition I read, it must have been before publishers went wild with Americanizing British spellings.)

I stayed up last night to finish this book, originally published in 1966, and like its predecessors, I enjoyed it thoroughly. As the title proclaims, it's about Queen Anne's rival favorites, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill. The novel opens with the first meeting between Sarah Churchill and her impoverished relations, the Hills, and ends with the death of the elderly Sarah decades later.

This book proceeds at a leisurely pace, allowing Plaidy to examine the characters of Sarah and Abigail in depth. Arrogant and insensitive, Sarah is largely unsympathetic, but Plaidy avoids turning her into a caricature, chiefly because of the genuine love depicted between her and her much more likable husband, John ("Marl" as she calls him). The scene where Sarah finds that her late husband has stored up her tresses of hair, famously cut off by Sarah during a fit of temper, is touching, as are the other scenes where Sarah must bear the losses that come to her just as they come to lesser mortals.

Abigail, deceptively meek and mild, is also well portrayed, especially in the latter part of the book, where she must deal with unfulfilled yearnings despite having achieved her ambition.

Queen Anne herself is an interesting character, her placid, almost insipid manner hiding a stubborn nature and a willingness to be pushed only so far.

With a few exceptions, the men in this novel are relegated to the background, though John Churchill and Robert Harley, Abigail's dissolute ally turned enemy, play prominent roles. The focus, though, is definitely on the "petticoat politics" of Queen Anne's reign.

Ophelia Field in her 2002 biography of Sarah Churchill, The Favourite, speaks dismissively of this novel, writing, "Facts taken from schoolbook history lie like uncrushed pills in the jam of this romantic fiction, heavy with forebodings of disaster and clunking dialogue." (Field also describes the television drama "The First Churchills" as "drily educational and theatrical.") Field's biography (as far as I can tell from skimming it) is readable and intelligent, but I can't agree with her assessment of Plaidy's novel. The dialogue here doesn't sparkle, but I wouldn't call it "clunking" either; in fact, Plaidy catches Anne's maddeningly repetitive speech, Sarah's fulminations, and Abigail's subtle way of suggesting ideas to Anne quite well. And romantic? I'd hardly call the characters here, who suffer disillusionment and disappointment, and who often make mistakes and suffer for them, romantic.

Besides, if this was a romance, it'd have Sarah Churchill with a bare-chested John Churchill on the cover, and it doesn't. So there.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Surfin' With Plaidy

Ouch! It's been too long since I last posted. I have been reading a Plaidy novel, The Queen's Favourites, though, so I'll soon be reporting on that. It's the story of the reign of Queen Anne and of her rival favorites, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill. So far it's quite good.

In the meantime, here's a link to Tanzanite's review of The Vow on the Heron, which is about Edward III and his family. I agree with her that it's nice to read about Edward III's family, particularly the female members, who often get overlooked by historical novelists.

Are you on MySpace? If so, check out Julie's newly formed Jean Plaidy Addicts group.

Doing a little more surfing tonight, I noticed this link entitled, Who Writes Like Jean Plaidy?, courtesy of the Clackmannanshire Council. (Where, I said to myself, is Clackmannashire?) Seeing Dorothy Dunnett on the list reminded me that I really need to be a good girl and check her out one of these days, but it's hard with all the Plaidys on my shelf calling out my name.

Here's a quiz by gemini chick entitled, So You Think You Know Jean Plaidy? I didn't do very well at all, I'm mortified to report. But at least I know now that I'm unlikely to run out of material for this blog any time soon!

Editor Rachel Kahan has some fine things to say about Jean Plaidy in this article on the Irene Goodman Literary Agency site.

Borders has posted some discussion questions about The Rose Without a Thorn, one of Plaidy's novels about Katherine Howard, here.

And finally, here's a very attractive website by Lynne M. Kennedy for the Sachem Public Library entitled The England of Jean Plaidy. This not only lists Plaidy's novels but describes them briefly--a great help. Be sure to check out the link for additional historical fiction as well.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Another Link: The Rose Without a Thorn

Here's a link to Clare's review of a Plaidy book about Katherine Howard, The Rose Without a Thorn.

I've read this one, but it's been quite a while. One day I'll have to pick it up again.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Haunted Sisters

Like the new blog colors? They struck me as being more Plaidy-ish than the orange that was there before.

Anyway, I finished reading The Haunted Sisters yesterday, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It's the story of Mary and Anne, daughters of James II, and covers the latter part of Charles II's reign to the death of King William at the hands of the Little Gentleman in Black Velvet--the mole whose hole caused the king's horse to throw its rider. In between these events, intrigue and treachery abound.

The characters are vividly drawn. Neither Mary nor Anne is particularly sympathetic at first, as both are living in the shadows of other people--Mary in that of her husband William, Anne in that of the ubiquitous Sarah Churchill. Mary grows from the passive tool of her husband into a ruler able to make wise decisions, and even Anne is beginning to develop a backbone by the end of the novel. Indeed, part of the fun of the novel is seeing Sarah get her comeuppance on occasion. Sarah herself, though thoroughly disagreeable, is vastly entertaining; horrible to live with, no doubt, but fun to watch. Anne's sickly son, the Duke of Gloucester, is charming without being cloying.

I'm looking forward to the sequel to this, The Queen's Favorites, and will be on the lookout for The Three Crowns (about William) and William's Wife (about Mary). In the meantime, Maureen Waller's 2002 nonfiction book, Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown, is a fascinating and readily available account of the events covered in these novels.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Follies of the King: A Link

Tanzanite (Daphne) has reviewed The Follies of the King, Jean Plaidy's novel about Edward II, so I thought you'd want to visit there, if you haven't already.

I think this may have been both the first Edward II novel I read, and the first Plaidy I read, so it's a sentimental favorite for me. (I thought Plaidy did a nice job with the red-hot poker scene.)

If any of you out there have Plaidy reviews on your blogs you'd like me to link to, or if you're interested in posting a guest review here, sing out!

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy 2007, and a Word of Wisdom

Happy New Year! I spent this long weekend at the beach, where I had the opportunity to visit one used bookstore that I enjoy.

Needless to say, among the authors I searched for was Jean Plaidy. I found several Philippa Carrs, a slew of Victoria Holts, but only one book by Jean Plaidy--Perdita's Prince. Which I didn't buy, as I was pretty sure that I had it already.

Well, I checked my bookshelf just now, and no Perdita's Prince. Bummer!

The moral: if you're not sure you have it, buy it. "Pretty sure" just doesn't cut it.