Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book Review: Ladies in Waiting, by Laura L. Sullivan

Sullivan, Laura. L. Ladies in Waiting. 336 p. 2012. Harcourt Children's Books. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780547581293.

This tale of three very different girls named Elizabeth in the era of King Charles II features a setting rich with details about fashion, customs, and favorite pastimes of England in the mid-1600s, painting a vivid picture of everyday life inside the royal court and out.

Ladies in Waiting explores roles of women at the time, especially their lack of agency, as each of the Elizabeths pursues goals that are frustratingly out of their reach. Romantic entanglements are a prominent feature of the plot, but there is not a perfectly swoon-worthy romance here-- rather, the love stories are all flawed in some way, highlighting the limitations on women at the time and making for quite a thought-provoking read.

Character development is similarly well executed. All three Elizabeths are fully fleshed out and interestingly flawed. Beth is unbelievably naive and bizarrely faithful to her dreams of true love, even when circumstances change for the worse. I honestly couldn't decide whether she was sweet or insane. Zabby is a likable, brainy girl trying to choose between head and heart. Her inner conflicts may prove a bit much for the reader at times, but ultimately make her a three-dimensional character. Headstrong Eliza is delightfully frank, using slang of the time in a most unladylike fashion to hilarious effect. I confess, her bawdy language makes her the most fun to read, and she ended up being my favorite Elizabeth.

Indeed, there's quite a bit of bawdiness in this one, making it most appropriate for an older teen audience, although the impact is softened by the fact that all scandalous content is referenced in antiquated terms likely to fly over the head of younger readers.

A slight drawback for me is the fact that significant parts of the narrative are fictionalized in a somewhat outlandish way. I'm all for fictionalization of events in a historical setting, but when it comes to portraying actual people, I prefer for the story not to deviate too much from reality or believability. Too, the third-person narration sometimes seems to speak from a contemporary viewpoint, explaining to the reader about the customs of the time, and I found that a little distracting.

Overall, Ladies in Waiting is an enjoyable read that will appeal to fans of historical fiction. With its quick pace and lively characters, it may also sway readers who think they don't enjoy the genre. It pairs well with Eve Edwards' Lacey Chronicles (starting with The Other Countess), a series with a similar tone, set about 100 years before this book.

Ladies in Waiting hits bookstore shelves on May 8. ARC for review provided by Harcourt Children's Books via NetGalley.

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