Genre: Historical Fiction
Content warnings: Death, war
Perfect for when you’re in the mood for: Coming-of-age, romance
In the Shadow of a Queen is a Victorian-era historical fiction novel centred around Louise, the sixth daughter of Queen Victoria, and her fight for freedom within the constraints of royalty. This is a story about knowing who you are from a young age and trying to figure out how you fit within your world. Coming into In the Shadow of a Queen, I was excited for a Victorian-era historical fiction novel, especially after just having watched the second season of Bridgerton. I love Victorian-era aesthetics (the heavy velvets, and lace and ballrooms) as well as rebellious coming-of-age stories and royal historical fiction, and this book ticked all of those boxes.
The characterisation in this novel was quite literally Perfect with a capital P. Characters of all ages felt genuine and had depth, even minor characters. As Louise grew older she matured in a very natural, unforced way so that it was impossible to see the changes as they were happening but obvious when looking back a few chapters. In addition, no one was depicted as entirely good or evil, a mistake often made in historical fiction. Queen Victoria, for example, was depicted as a complex, controlling woman, but she was also deep in grief for most of the novel whilst still having the best interests of her children at heart. These conflicting motivations create a stark and unique character who did the best she could but was ultimately flawed. This allowed other characters to have complex and contradictory relationships with her that, whilst not often depicted in literature, felt incredibly human.
Generally, In the Shadow of the Queen was a fun read. The pacing was excellent, even though the plot itself was not what I expected. I had thought the story would be more heavily directed towards Louise’s artistic accomplishments and life in public systems outside the constraints of royalty. It did go in this direction for most of the first half, but in the second half there was a sharp swerve towards romance and Louise’s search for a husband. From that point on, the art and freedom subplots were almost entirely dropped, replaced by relationship and war subplots. This did surprise and disappoint me at first, as the first half felt like it was building up to a strong message that was then instead superseded by romance.
However, in retrospect, I don’t think these threads were dropped entirely, but instead were altered to be experienced in relation to Louise’s new relationships. In the first half, Louise was a child and had few responsibilities, and so could explore her freedom in its entirety. However, as she grew older and gained responsibilities, this freedom needed instead to be experienced within the institution of royalty.
Even though it wasn’t what I expected, I did enjoy the romance subplot, and I can understand why it became the focus.
The writing itself was clear, easy to read and never dragged. Interactions between the characters, much like the characterisation, felt very genuine, and Moore’s ability to clearly express complex emotions so concisely and in such an easily understandable way was impressive.
Ultimately, In the Shadow of a Queen was a unique, fun, easy-to-read historical fiction that encouraged a genuine connection to the characters, and as a result I rated it 4 stars. Even though it went in a different direction than I expected it to, I was never disappointed.