It starts off with a well-to-do seventeen-year-old girl named Liza who’s about to plan her coming out ball to be launched in society when both her parents die in a carriage accident. She’s left penniless (in debt actually) and without anyone to look after her. So she ends up applying for and getting a job as Princess Victoria’s maid. It turns out that Princess Victoria is trapped in a web of political maneuvers and ploys by her mother (the Duchess of Kent) and her mother’s aide (Sir John Conroy, who is also hinted to be the Duchess's secret lover). The Duchess and Sir John have maintained total control over Princess Victoria up to this point via the Kensington System, in which they never allow her any alone time and plan every single aspect of her days. The goal of the system was that they would make the princess completely dependent upon them and never develop a mind of her own. The plan backfires however and Liza helps stoke the coals of Victoria’s anger and hatred of the system and its coordinators in order to help the princess gain better control of her and Liza’s futures. In Kensington Palace it’s hard to know who to trust. Liza tries to help protect Victoria from the malicious campaigns of Sir John while trying to make her own way in an entirely new and foreign social class.
This is one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read in a while. It has the perfect mixture of fiction and non-fiction (Liza and Will are pretty much the only fictional major characters but are based on documented descriptions of people in similar situations). For example, Victoria really did have a spaniel named Dash which she cherished – there’s a beautiful painting of the two of them, which I will attempt to insert below:
MacColl went through over a hundred volumes of journals for this novel. All the included diary entries by Princess/Queen Victoria and the letters from her mother the Duchess are authentic except for the dates (MacColl condenses the happenings of 3 years down to 1 year). I didn’t know very much at all about Queen Victoria, but after reading this I want to learn more. MacColl includes a helpful annotated bibliography with books for further reading, so I've already added them to my to-read list.
Now I really, really want to go to Kensington Palace and have afternoon tea at The Orangery: http://www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/. *sigh*