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All The Single Ladies

A review of Ladies in Waiting by Laura Sullivan, who makes Charles II into quite the fox.

All The Single Ladies

BOOK REPORT for Ladies in Waiting by Laura Sullivan

Cover Story: Sex and the (17th Century) City
BFF Charm: On Average, A Solid Maybe
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Infodump
Bonus Factor: Charles II of England
Relationship Status: Lunch Buddies

Cover Story: Sex and the (17th Century) City

The gossiping, laughing lady's maids on the cover look way too modern, but at the same time, life at court during the Restoration WAS a lot like Sex and the City, and I guess teenagers aren't likely to pick up a book with some old painting on the cover, unless it's for school. I don't really like this cover, though, because I'm just that way about historicals. Maybe if the photographer used a filter on the camera or something? It just looks too glossy, like modern people in costume instead of like a portrait of girls in 1662.

The Deal:

Three girls from radically different backgrounds end up at court, serving Charles II's Portuguese queen, Catherine. Beth is beautiful and innocent, and her syphillitic mother spends her days guarding Beth's virginity while pimping her out to potential husbands. Zabby, newly arrived from Barbados, is wild and wants to be a scientist (natural historian and philosopher, really, but why quibble?), and secretly saved the king from an attack of plague. In order to hide his illness, which would mark him as weak, he lets the court believe she is his newest mistress. Wealthy but plain Eliza wants nothing more than to be a famous playwright and actress, and has manipulated her Puritanical father into not forcing her into marriage, but her single days are numbered. The three share secrets, adventures and dreams at court.

BFF Charm: On Average, A Solid Maybe

I liked all the girls, especially Zabby and Eliza, but I didn't feel like I got enough time with them to extend a BFF charm. Beth is sweet, but way too boring for me. It's not her fault -- her mother is insane, thanks to the syphillis she contracted from Beth's father before he ruined the family's finances and died, and she's never had a chance to figure out if there's anything she could love or do just for herself. Eliza is funny and crude, but seemed a little too cartoonish. I think Zabby (all their names are really Elizabeth, so Zabby isn't quite as weird a name as it seems) was the most interesting, struggling between love of a man and love of a profession in an age when women had to choose more definitely than today -- although I think there's still a fair amount of choosing we're forced to do, and I'd love to discuss the issues of women in society with her.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

I was totally disappointed with the love stories in the book. Beth and her great love weren't drawn fully enough to be interesting, and I wanted so much more of Eliza and Nell Gwyn and there was nothing. It didn't even have to be Gwyn, if historical accuracy was an issue (although I don't know if she'd have balked at a relationship with a woman, if that woman was wealthy and generous), but any young actress would do. There were hints of attraction, and then that storyline just disappeared.

The main swoon comes from Zabby and King Charles. The intimacy of their initial meeting -- that of a doctor and patient, closeted alone together for two weeks -- leads to a friendship and mutual respect, and Charles is H-O-T. Zabby's conflict over falling for the king feels real at times, and pale at others, so the emotional impact isn't what it could be. The book would have been much better as a trilogy (I KNOW!), with each volume following a different girl.

Talky Talk: Infodump

Parts of the story are funny and parts are poignant, but they are overshadowed by history lessons and a highwayman/treason plot that barely hangs together. I really think the fault isn't in the writing, but in the attempt to cram so many stories into the novel that insufficient time is spent with any one in particular. Each of the girls has touching moments of pain and pleasure, but they're too few and not strongly connected. However, Eliza is amusing, and I loved the little excerpts from her raunchy plays and her bon mots. Here's how Eliza responds to a suitor's nosy inquiries into her writing:

"This bit I just finished is a conversation between Lady Nuncsat and Lord Stormthebreech. He tries to persuade her of the chief benefit of having a husband, and she protests that if husbands are à la mode, another's will suit her just as well:

"'Is carnal pleasure prize for married misery I'll reap?
I'll ride the steed--or not--and let another pay his keep.
Who'd buy with precious liberty what she'd get elsewhere gratis?
I'll keep my heart and hand and wealth,' quoth Lady Nunquam Satis."

"Ah…ahem. She is a villain, then?"

"Lord Stormthebreech thinks so, and calls her a fishwife … She replies,

"'Touch me and you'll find a fishwife verily, by gods!
One who shucks your oysters and fillets your pretty cods.'"

Bonus Factor: Charles II of England

It's hard to believe from the portraits he was considered quite a catch, and not just because of his position as king. Debauchery reigned at his court, and the Restoration era always makes for entertaining reading, and Sullivan’s portrayal of Charles is particularly delicious.

Casting Call:

Rufus Sewell as Charles II

He's already done a fine -- in every sense of the word -- job as Charles. I can't handle the wig, though, so you get a picture from another movie instead (Dangerous Beauty, I think).

Relationship Status: Lunch Buddies

This book was nice enough, and always has entertaining gossip. I'll always be happy to save it a seat in the caf, and I'd totally share my packet of Twinkies (unless it's on a diet), but I don't think we'll be hanging out at the mall after school or spending hours on the phone.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, via NetGalley.  I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Ladies In Waiting will be available May 8 (tomorrow!).

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.