The Problem With Virtue

Often when I read historical fiction, it seems that the 21st-Century world view is imported with the characters.  No more is this true than with the themes of sex and religion.  Fortunately, Marci Jefferson manages to avoid this pitfall in Girl on the Golden Coin. Young Frances Stuart, the protagonist, wishes only to make a good match with a wealthy and titled husband. This is the 1600s, and as kin to the newly-restored Charles II of England, this expectation seems fairly reasonable. After turning down the opportunity to be the official mistress of Louis XIV, she is forced back to England with orders to seduce Charles and win him to the Catholic cause. However, Frances is a good girl, and tries to figure out how to fulfill her obligations to Louis while maintaining her virginity. In the end, it proves impossible as Frances falls for King Charles and she finally breaks his heart in order to keep him from committing political suicide.

I don't think this is your typical romance, though it is about two people who love each other with a misunderstanding. This is another one of those recent historical novels that have been exhaustively researched. As I mentioned before, Jefferson really tries to get inside the heads of her characters. In fact, only two of the characters in the book are fictional: Frances' two maids. Also, there is a great deal of physical description. I imagine the author visited many of these places and saw renderings of these costumes and could not pass up the opportunity to describe them. Possibly one of the better historical novels this year, and certainly one of the most accurate.

Want more of the Merry Monarch? Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar is an imagining of the life of Nell Gwynn, one of the most famous of Charles II's lovers. Rose Tremain has written two novels about John Merivel, a fictional doctor to the king who traverses the social strata: Restoration and Merivel. Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland deals with a woman who did become Louis XVI's official mistress.

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