The Countess and the King
Scott’s latest foray into the realm of royal mistresses features an unlikely candidate: Katherine Sedley, blessed with little beauty but with a sharp wit. The Countess and the King follows Katherine’s unconventional girlhood under the tutelage of her libertine father, her life at the court of Charles II, and her progress into the bed of the Duke of York. When Charles II’s death brings Katherine’s lover to the throne as King James II, can their relationship survive?
I’ve had difficulty liking some of Scott’s previous heroines, but I’m happy to report I had no such problem with Katherine, whose wit and intelligence, coupled with a certain vulnerability, made her an appealing and memorable narrator. As in her other novels, Scott vividly evokes the atmosphere at the Restoration court, and it’s a measure of her skill that characters who are familiar from her other novels appear without giving a sense of repetitiveness. The characters are fully fleshed out, and Katherine’s relationships with the important men in her life are well drawn, particularly that with her father. A detailed author’s note wraps up this royal package very nicely.