First Lines: A shaft of dawn light fell on the crack in the corner of the ceiling. Yesterday it had looked like a pair of spectacles, but overnight a spider had embroidered the fissure, filling in the gaps, so that now it looked, she thought, like a crown.
Ok, so I’ll be the first to tell you that this isn’t technically a YA book. But we are dealing with a barely-eighteen-year-old girl who finds herself to be the Queen of England. So…that counts, right? I’m a big follower of Queen Victoria’s early years (I mean really, how difficult would that job have been? I do not envy her.), so when I saw this at the library, I had to grab it.
In 1837, Alexandrina Victoria became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Many had no faith in her. After growing up completely sheltered by her mother and her comptroller, Sir John Conroy, Victoria knew little about the way the world truly worked. But from the very beginning, she was determined to show everyone (especially her ministers) that she was her own woman–and she started by dropping her Alexandrina name. Quickly, she wins over Lord Melbourne, who becomes her private secretary. Perhaps he could have been more if Victoria wasn’t destined to marry Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg and Gotha. Having met him as a child, Victoria was less than enamored with Albert. There’s no way she could want someone like him as a husband…
I want to start by saying that I already knew a lot about Victoria’s youth thanks to the fabulous movie The Young Victoria. Sure, it takes a few liberties with her story, but it’s incredibly entertaining.
Unfortunately, this book didn’t work as well for me as I hoped it would. I thought the beginning was slow. Why? Because it was (perhaps obviously so) nearly identical to The Young Victoria. Granted, they are based on the same sources (Victoria was a methodica diarist), but I always assumed the movie took more liberties, you know? Turns out it’s quite factual, which is great, but it meant that nothing new was being added as I read this book. Hence, I found it slow. And this is predominately the reason why I gave it a lower rating. It took a really long time to feel invested in this.
I needed something to spice it up, and I found it in the oddest place. See, I thought it was going to be the scenes of Victoria and Albert (who, let’s face it, make an adorable couple on and off screen), but it was really the scenes with Victoria and Lord Melbourne. Odd, right? But it’s a complicated relationship these two have, and this book really shows the nuances there. That was kind of fascinating, especially since the story shows both how Victoria views their relationship and how Melbourne does. Now how much of that is factual, I don’t know. But it was interesting.
I think this book does do a nice job showing Victoria’s personality: strong, stubborn (sometimes to a fault), a bit vengeful and vindictive, witty, humorous, and sometimes short-sighted. It didn’t shy away from her worse traits, nor did it try to paint her with the blackest brush. It just made her look like the teenage girl she was, the one who was clearly unprepared for the role she had to fill but tried to make the best of it. She learned quickly, especially once she started trusting the right people.
Also, this book doesn’t shy away from the volatile relationship between Victoria and Albert. For as good as they were together, they had some wicked fights. But they seemed to even each other out at the same time that they presented a challenge, so I think that’s adorable.
So yeah. Overall, I found it to be informative and showing a wide array of emotions not only from our heroine but also from other major and minor characters. It was just really slow to get going.
Oh, and if you’re interested in this but don’t have time to read the book right now, Daisy Goodwin wrote this book at the same time she wrote the screenplay for a new PBS series, Victoria, which premieres Sunday, January 15. I am so there.