Thursday, October 6, 2022

Review: In the Shadow of a Queen by Heather B. Moore

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's love story is quite well known among those who have a fascination with historic British royalty. Victoria's long mourning after the early death of the love of her life, the father of her nine children, is looked at as the pinnacle of devotion and love. But that's in the abstract. On a more personal level, Albert's death changed not only the happy life of his wife and sovereign, but also those of his children, especially the children still living at home. Heather B. Moore's historical novel about Princess Louise, the fourth daughter and sixth child of Victoria and Albert, takes readers from a year prior to Albert's death to the years afterwards as the princess and her siblings grow up and take their places in royal families across Europe and in the Queen's service.

Princess Louise, called Loosy by her family, was a free-spirited, artistic young girl. She is close to several older siblings, including the Prince of Wales, her older brother Albert, and to her younger siblings. She is doted on, admired for her beauty and her artistic talents. Her life is one of great privilege but also great constraints as a royal child. At 12, when the novel opens, she is young enough to be just on the cusp of understanding what is swirling around her in her family's private life and also on the larger stage of world politics, not that a well-bred princess concerns herself with the latter. When she is 13 and her father dies, much about the happy family changes. Victoria plunges into mourning that she will maintain for the rest of her life, retreating from public life for a prolonged time. Without her beloved Albert to advise her, she presses her oldest unmarried daughter into the role of her secretary, a role that eventually becomes Loosy's as her older sisters marry and leave the palace. This gives the unconventional young woman an even greater interest in politics and the causes of her time. Although forbidden by her mother to act on her feelings, Loosy is a suffragette at heart and longs to break other boundaries as well, not least in her art (sculpting is not for women, and definitely not for gently bred young women) and in her marriage (she has no interest in marrying any of the available royals presented to her).

Moore captures well the dichotomy of a woman who is not just a daughter, but a daughter of the queen, owing her mother filial duty and also the duty of a subject. Princess Louise fully knew her responsibilities but also knew how to get many concessions from her mother in order to live out her dreams, even if they were occasionally modified a bit. She was a fascinating historical figure. The story is well researched and the chapter epigraphs from actual royal letters and diaries help give a flavor of the real people behind Moore's fictionalization. Spanning just over a decade of Loosy's life, from the year before losing her father to the early days of her marriage, the novel is an intriguing look at the forces that shaped this most unconventional of Queen Victoria's daughters. The imagined family scenes feel true to the people we know historically and the contrast of life in the royal household prior to Albert's death and after is beautifully rendered. Louise's interest in politics and suffrage, although not encouraged by the Queen, is easy to understand, surrounded as she was by the daily knowledge of the realm and the wider world, despite the very sheltered way that the royal children were raised socially. That Loosy became such a force, advocate, and founding support for so many artistic and educational organizations speaks to the strength of her personality as does her drive to improve her natural artistic talent and make beautiful sculptures that survive today. Some of this very impressiveness is subsumed during the lengthy search for a husband and while the search itself is important, and groundbreaking in the fact that she was being allowed to marry outside of her class but also to choose her own husband (within reason), it did detract from the otherwise intriguing young woman. Over all, the book was a tantalizing glimpse into the life of a woman, a princess, who broke the mold in so many ways and is so rarely remembered today.

For more information about Heather B. Moore and the book, check our her author site, like her fan page on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, look at the book's Goodreads page, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Laurel Ann from Austenprose and publisher Shadow Mountain Publishing for sending me a copy of the book to review.

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