Eliza dreams of being a playwright for the king’s theater, where she will be admired for her witty turns of phrase rather than her father’s wealth. Beth is beautiful as the day but poor as a church mouse, so she must marry well, despite her love for her childhood sweetheart. Zabby comes to England to further her scientific studies—and ends up saving the life of King Charles II. Soon her friendship with him becomes a dangerous, impossible obsession. Though she knows she should stay away from the young, handsome king, Charles has a new bride, Queen Catherine, and a queen needs ladies in waiting. And so Zabby, Beth, and Eliza, three Elizabeths from very different walks of life, find themselves at the center of the most scandal-filled court that England has ever seen.
I love history, and although I had read about Charles II in relation to Cromwell, I didn't know much about his reign after Cromwell's fall. So when Ladies in Waiting came up on Houghton Mifflins spring titles list I was eager to give it a try.
Filled to the brim with well researched information and fascinating tidbits, Ladies in Waiting did not disappoint in the historical department. A very great deal of the historical details focused on girls and their very cloistered/controlled lives and Sullivan is very no-nonsense about spelling it out for the reader.
Her father had given him permission to try for her hand, leaving them alone with only a maidservant within, for propriety, and a liveried footman without, in case he should try to claim his prize by force. Now, that was a though, he mused. It had certainly been done before, though mostly through abduction. Still, if he managed to spoil the goods here on the chaise, she and her father would probably agree to let him buy what remained...For many readers it will be an eye-opening experience, even for those who thought they understood the limited lives of women. Many people don't realize the strange combination of limits and freedoms for the rich and noble women, especially those living at court where scandal, seduction and politics all lived hand in hand. Ladies in Waiting beautifully illustrated this dynamic in a very realistic way.
What her father had proposed was not strictly speaking legal, but it was a common enough occurrence. Young girls with fortunes were cajoled, coerced and yes, even abducted into giving themselves and their fortunes. And most of the time, at least one parent was complicit. Marriages were arranged, and though in theory consent was necessary, in practice a proposal was less a case of will you? than you will.
However, the actual story of Ladies in Waiting left me both a bit confused and frustrated. For starters, it's told in a very confusing Omnipotent point of view, often shifting mid-paragraph from one persons point of view to another which frequently left me back tracking trying to figure out what just happened. It would have been much more effective for me if it had been a shifting first person POV that changed chapter to chapter, or if it had stuck to just one of the girls POV, at no point did the Omnipotent POV make enough of a difference to the telling of the story to warrant it's use.
My other complaint about this otherwise well researched book, was how each of the three girls focused on, were each a wildly exceptional circumstance. Zabby, from the Barbados, is scientific and brilliant, she has been allowed to run around in pants and explore and she's come to London , not to find a husband, but to further her studies. Eliza is a very rich merchant's daughter, who has been sent to court to make a noble match, she is a playwright and a free spirit. Beth is a stunning beauty whose family has been ruined by her father, she has a title but is penniless and is dogged by a syphilis ravaged, monster of a mother. Each girl is such an extreme of an already unusual situation that I found it very difficult to take them seriously, especially when taken within the confines of a well researched historical novel. By the end each girls story had taken such a ridiculous turn it was bordering on bizarre, and I was left completely put off by the whole thing.
A highly researched historical YA, that fell short for me in both its strange omnipotent POV and even more bizarre fictional adventures, I'm not sure what the intention for Ladies in Waiting was, but it missed the mark in my books.
Ladies in Waiting, by Laura L. Sullivan
Published by Houghton Mifflin, May 8th, 2012
My copy provided by the publisher
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