I was initially intrigued by Prisoners in the Palace due to the connection with Queen Victoria and the pre-Victorian/Victorian era but I wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea as it is listed as a young adult book. I was not only pleasantly surprised but thrilled to discover this book easily qualifies for adult reading as well, particularly those adults who adore historical fiction and/or the Victorian era. Because this book excels at both. And it’s a phenomenal read.
I thought Prisoners in the Palace was an engrossing and entertaining historical fiction read, not falling into the literary pitfall that many historical fiction books can — being so heavy handed on the history that the story is a bit dry and the reader isn’t allowed to form a real attachment or bond to the characters. Not so in this case.
Ms. MacColl weaves a rich tapestry of colorful detail of the pre-Victorian period, from the somewhat rundown state of Kensington Palace when Princess Victoria was in residence, to the lives of servants below stairs to the unseemly squalor of London backstreets and alleys and the beginnings of the competitive news business. She shows just enough unpleasantness to highlight the differences between the classes without being overbearing or depressive.
I thought Ms. MacColl did a phenomenal job showcasing Victoria in the year before she became queen. At times Victoria was a petulant teenager, a spoiled child, a lonely young lady and a willful heir to the throne. I have read about Victoria once she was queen but she seemed more alive and real to me throughout the pages of Prisoners in the Palace. Ms. MacColl took actual diary entries from Princess Victoria and wrapped her story around them, giving us a wonderful tale in the process.
Surprisingly, Victoria herself wasn’t the central character. That honor belonged to Liza, who found herself employed as a maid in Kensington Palace after her parents were unexpectedly killed shortly after she turned 17. Liza was a frustrating character for me — some of her actions had me literally wringing my hands and wanting to pull my hair. I did remind myself that she was only 17 and 17-year-olds in 1836 were far less savvy than some 17-year-olds today. Despite my frustration with her slips, I did like Liza. She was spunky without being annoying and she turned out to have quite a backbone on her. She ended up being more like a contemporary heroine, what with controlling her own destiny and being self-sufficient, which may appeal to some young adult audiences.