"Reign of the Marionettes": a history book disguised as a novel - review
When I opted to review "Reign of the Marionettes" I was under the impression is was a historical romance. When I was a few chapters in, I thought it would be an adventure story. It is not. "Reign of the Marionettes" is the account of the real lives and history of a group of people living around 1680 and deals with plotting and scheming.It is more a history book disguised as a novel.
Sometimes this can make the book slow and particularly in the beginning it is full with dialogues (talking heads) and many, many different people. But when you arrive at the second half the stage is set and as a lawyer it had me fascinated how difficult it turned out for people to prove they were innocent.
Imagine yourself in the England of those days. You have grown up in a country ruled by a Puritan dictator who came to power after the king was beheaded in a civil war in which the Catholic French queen of that king was the opposition of the party that won. Catholics are not the most popular people in a situation like that. But to make matters worse your family lore will still tell about Bloody Mary, the queen who ruled when the grandparents of your parents lived and who burned protestants in droves at the stake. And not only her but in continental Europe the same happened. You will fear Catholics because when they would come to power what would happen to you?
And now the royal house is restored on the throne, the queen is barren and the next in line, the brother of the king, marries a Catholic!!!!! Italian princess. You might trust that Prince James but what of his heirs?
This is the situation in the period the book is set in. Britain is a parliamentary monarchy: parliament has to give power to the king. He is not an absolute king like for instance the French ones. One of his closest advisors discovers he is not informed about a secret treaty with France and regards the king from now on an enemy.
The result is what is called the "Popist Plot" and all of a sudden every Catholic but also everyone else has to fear for his life.
Opposite of the "bad guys" we follow Elisabeth countess of Powis who has to fight to save her husband's life.
Because of the multitude of people in the novel it is, particularly at the beginning, difficult to identify with one. Only because I looked something up on Wikipedia (I am not British) I discovered that everyone in the book is a real person and that the novel follows history, That discovery made me look quite different at this novel and I would suggest the publishers to made this very clear at the beginning of the book and in the sales description. It really makes you appreciate it a lot more. (You do not see the byline on the cover on Kindle)
The book made me look different at king Charles II. For me as a Dutch person he is the one who after he had a safe place of refuge for years in Holland to start multiple wars against Holland as soon as he was king of England. He also seemed a very mercurial man who changed alliances as another person changes socks. Here we see also glimpses of Charles the husband. Yes he had a lot of mistresses and illegitimate children. But when he can save his royal house by divorcing his barren queen he bluntly refuses and refuses and refuses. He had acknowledged his bastards and gave them a decent royal upbringing and made sure his mistresses were looked after. In those days a mistress was regarded quite a normal thing to have. Remember most marriages were once of convenience and only done for diplomatic purposes. But when you study history a bit more it seemed Charles really cared for his Portuguese wife. I had tears in my eyes when people are gossiping in the story that the queen is seen in the royal nursery cuddling and playing with the royal bastards. Imagine to have to live as a queen who fails the only thing she has to do: birth an heir and longing so much for a child you go and cuddle the children your husband has with other women.
When you have concluded the novel take some time to google Elisabeth Powis, Titus Oates and the others to find out what happened afterwards (AND to see what they looked like as there are plenty of paintings). My thoughts were that I am very glad I did not live in those days in Britain.
Interesting read though (as a history book) and the price for the Kindle is very friendly.