Impoverished and exiled to the French countryside after the overthrow of the English Crown, Frances Stuart survives merely by her blood-relation to the Stuart Royals. But in 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and springs to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches the Sun King's eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty, she has Stuart secrets to keep and her family to protect. King Louis XIV turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He banishes her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and secure an alliance.
Armed in pearls and silk, Frances maneuvers through the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him. He believes her love can make him a better man and even chooses Frances to pose as Britannia for England’s coins. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. The discovery of a dangerous plot will force to choose between love for herself and war for her beloved country.
In the tradition of Philippa Gregory, debut author Marci Jefferson brings to life a captivating woman whose beauty, compassion, and intellect impacted a king and a nation.
Oh, how I was looking forward to this book! I love reading about Restoration England and the Merry Monarch and his licentious court. And I love reading about lesser-known people whose impact on history gets outshone by the light of the bright stars of their age. History may remember Frances Stuart simply as the only woman who managed not to succumb to King Charles II's charms--and that is highly debatable--but she was also the face of Britannia, chosen because the king felt she was the embodiment of the strengths of his great nation; she was beloved by just about every courtier, artist, and poet in his court, and she was an island of goodness and honor in a sea of debauchery and self-servitude. She was a calming, gentling influence on the king, and though her status as his mistress is debated, no one denies the longstanding and intimate friendship the two enjoyed. And she was just about the only woman who was able to exert any influence on his policies. Ms. Jefferson had a real opportunity here to take a woman fairly unfamiliar to modern readers, a woman who was famous in her time, though largely forgotten by history, and bring her back to life in a way that would allow her humanity to shine through while providing insight into a tumultuous time period. And she nailed it!
I absolutely loved Frances. Though she is subject to the demands of her family and of her king, she is no simpering milksop. She is so poised, so strong, so prescient in her ability to see through any situation to the heart of the matter that it seems as if she really must have been as Ms. Jefferson portrays her to have been able to capture and hold the estimation of not only her king but her fellow countrymen as well. And since we are privy to her inner thoughts, we get to witness her personal struggle with balancing the demands on her; we get to witness those private moments when her poise and graciousness fall away, where she's simply a daughter desperate to protect her family, simply a woman in love caught in a web of political maneuvering that never allows her to throw caution to the wind and reach for her own happiness. I knew a little bit about her life, and so I was prepared for the things coming her way, but I never stopped rooting for her to overcome them all. Really, I think it's a shame that a little two-bit actress like Nell Gwyn is best loved by history among his mistresses when Frances Stuart and even her archrival Lady Castlemaine were such grand women. Don't get me wrong: I've read several books about Nell, and I admire her spirit and her rise to the top, but when compared to the beauty, grace, intelligence, and accomplishment of Frances Stuart, she doesn't even come close.
I really wanted to rate this novel higher, and even now I'm toying with my final rating. I loved the characterization and I was thoroughly emotionally invested, but the storytelling was a little uneven in places. I wanted more. (WARNING: spoiler-ish material ahead.) Some events are skipped over or only briefly mentioned, like the deaths of the two most important men in her life. I wanted to know how her husband died and how she coped, and I wanted to be there with her when King Charles died. More page time is devoted to a royal hand-job than to the death of her husband, and the king's death was a footnote. I found that rather odd since practically the entire novel revolves around her relationship with him. So that was a big disappointment for me. And I had been looking forward to experiencing some of the cataclysmic events that took place during her time at court through her survival of them--the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London--but instead they are portrayed from a distance, and I felt like a real opportunity was missed in those instances to bring the enormous gravity of them to life, like Kathleen Winsor does in Forever Amber, one of my all-time faves.
But in spite of my desire for more in-depth coverage, I really did love Girl on the Golden Coin. It's a gorgeous novel, lush and intoxicating, with an inspiring heroine readers can't help but get swept away with. It's a loving tribute to a woman who deserves to be better remembered by history and a must-read for historical fiction lovers.
My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
Girl on the Golden Coin is on a blog tour!
Marci Jefferson will be here tomorrow with a fantastic Q&A session and a giveaway!