Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Pledge of Better Times (Book Review)

Title: A Pledge of Better Times
Author: Margaret Porter
Publication: Gallica Press, 2015, paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: A compelling historical novel set in the late 17th century about two interconnected families: the Stuarts and the de Veres, loyal servants to their monarch. Charles II, restored to his throne after years of exile, reigned merrily, yielding numerous attractive bastards but no legitimate child. Charles’ brother James, a controversial Catholic, and his daughters, reliable Protestants, Mary and Anne, are heirs to the throne. The Earl of Oxford, Aubrey de Vere, is a high-ranking courtier loyal to the Stuarts. The story is primarily about his daughter, Lady Diana, first a girl and then a beautiful and intelligent young woman, who serves Mary and pledges her love to the Duke of Albans, son of Charles II and the notorious orange seller Nell Gwyn.

Audience: Fans of quality historical fiction and historical romance; Anglophiles and fans of the Stuarts.

What I liked: This time frame is much neglected: there is historical fiction set during the English Civil War and during Charles II’s exile and plenty depicting Bonnie Prince Charlie’s but not much set around the time of Charles’ death in 1685. You won’t be surprised to hear that two of my childhood favorites take place during this period: Princess of Orange, about Mary’s childhood and marriage to William of Orange, and Shattered Summer, about the Duke of Monmouth’s misguided attempt to seize the throne.  You can see how handsome he was and he had his share of Stuart charm.
Duke of Monmouth (1678) by Sir Godfrey Kneller

A Pledge of Better Times is thoroughly researched yet written with a light touch: Porter delicately balances the need for historical accuracy without sacrificing her vivid storytelling and provides a touching romance as well. I am a long time fan of her books, back to her Walker days, and this is by far her best. Her enthusiasm for even the most minor character shines through. I loved Diana de Vere and her father, a courtier who wants to be loyal to his monarch without renouncing his religion (of course, as a Catholic, I wish James II had been more tolerant of religious freedom and avoided being deposed – and if his father had been smarter and more tolerant, perhaps he could have kept his head and kingdom – pigheaded Stuarts!). Even minor characters such as Nell Gwyn and Prince Eugene of Savoy are well depicted while the calculating Sarah Churchill shows her true colors (why doesn’t PBS bring back its wonderful miniseries about Sarah and her soldier husband?). My mother will appreciate mentions of her favorite Henry Purcell. One of the portraits of Lady Diana by Sir Godfrey Kneller graces the cover of the book, making me want to research and visit his paintings in person. I think I have seen this one he painted of the first Duke of Marlborough in person but not the one above of Monmouth.
John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough by Sir Godfrey Kneller
What I disliked: The one bad thing about historical fiction based on history one knows well is knowing what is going to happen, and in this era it was usually bad. Oh well, at least William and Mary are preserved as a great university.

Source: I purchased a trade paperback but it is also available in Kindle. Highly recommended!

Images of the Dukes of Monmouth and Marlborough used by permission of the National Portrait Gallery.

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