Prisoners in the Palace
MacColl’s fictional romp through Kensington Palace takes place in the months before Victoria becomes Queen in 1837. When Liza Hastings, 17, a young woman of good family, is impoverished by her parents’ sudden deaths, she gratefully accepts a royal sinecure. She reports to the Palace as maid to Victoria, who is also 17, but, alas, nothing is as Liza expected. The Palace is shabby, and Victoria, who has been both spoiled and deprived, is a pawn in her mother’s political games. This gives Liza a chance to involve Victoria in her own schemes, by leaking information to the press (in the person of a handsome young broadsheet publisher) while investigating a suspicious death.
Prisoners in the Palace was written for young readers who may not be well schooled in British history. The setting is accurately portrayed, and the fictional characters are true to type. The underworld slang “flash patter” is part of the plot (sort of), which is fun, but the attempts to mimic local dialects throughout (‘”God ‘elp her if ‘e gets his ‘ans on ‘er…”) are distracting. More important, real people, including the teenage Victoria, are characterized in one-dimensional, often misleading ways. Young readers who eat up these fictional shenanigans should be given a dose of nonfiction as an antidote.