Saturday, January 22, 2011

2-in-1: Queen Hereafter by Susan Fraser King & The Dressmaker by Posie Graeme-Evans

1. Queen Hereafter by Susan Fraser King

The book's synopsis from the author's website:

Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of ScotlandMargaret, a young Saxon princess, is shipwrecked with her family on the coast of Scotland and forced to accept sanctuary from the recently widowed warrior-king Malcolm Canmore of Scotland.  Malcolm sees a political prize in Margaret, and promises to help her brother, the outlawed rebel Edgar of England, in return for his sister’s hand in marriage.
When Malcolm brings a female bard, Eva, to court as a hostage to ensure good behavior of her kinswoman, his conniving enemy Lady Macbeth, Margaret, and Eva expect to resent one another.  Instead, they discover an unlikely bond as outcasts of a sort–Eva a wild Celtic spirit captive among her enemies, Margaret suppressing her passions as she endures increasing pressure as a queen and a mother of princes.
Torn between loyalties, Eva must betray the king and the new queen in order to honor her devotion to the former queen.  Thrown into Malcolm’s dungeon, charged with witchcraft and treason, Eva soon learns that Queen Margaret–counseled by the furious king and his powerful priests–will decide the fate of the young bard and her mentor, the troublesome Lady Macbeth.
I liked Queen Hereafter because it introduced me to Queen Margaret of Scotland of whom I had known nothing before this book. Nor did I know much about the medieval history of Scotland. Thanks to Ms. Kings, my spark of interest has been ignited and I now want to really put my effort into finding out more about Scotland and her people. Enough about that. Let's go back to the book itself. I really enjoyed Queen hereafter, it was very intriguing to read about the saintly life of Margaret (who is also a saint now) and about how her successful efforts to bring refinement into the court life.

The way the author writes about her, it's really impossible not to like Margaret. And that brings me to the biggest disappointment. Queen Hereafter was simply cut too short for me. In the afterword, Ms. King talks about the rich life on Margaret and how it would make for a door stopper of a book. Honestly, I wish it were one. It would have been such a better story. I wanted to read more about Margaret, Malcolm and their family of future kings of Scots, instead, I felt I was given just a morsel and now I'm craving for more.

2. The Dressmaker by Posie Graeme-Evans

The book's synopsis from GoodReads:

The Dressmaker: A NovelSet in 1850s London, at the height of Victoria's reign, Posie Graeme-Evans' glorious fourth historical novel tells of a woman ahead of her time. Ellen Gowan is a famous dress designer for ladies of high society and one of the very few women in England who owns her own business. But her life wasn't always one of such privilege.
The only surviving daughter of a Cambridge scholar-turned village minister and a beautiful woman who was disowned by her family for marrying for love, Ellen had a childhood plentiful in affection, if not in currency and dresses made of fine silks. Tragedy strikes on her thirteenth birthday, when her father dies suddenly, leaving Ellen and her mother penniless and dependent upon the kindness of her mother's estranged family. 
And so begins Ellen's road to to success paved with humiliation, deprivation but also with good people, friends who love her, care for her and want to help. One request to all who want to read this book: do not read the description provided by the publisher because you might as well just stop there. It pretty much tells the whole story almost from beginning to the very end. It was very disappointing to me to keep reading, nearing the end and realizing that I already knew all that from the synopsis with a few little events not mentioned (even the GoodReads description is like that so I only provided the first two paragraphs).

Besides that failure of a synopsis, The Dressmaker was quite all right. The story wasn't boring, it kept me engaged and interested in Ella's fate from the beginning till the last page. I thought I would be bored with the details of dresssmaking but that wasn't bad either, it was actually fun to read about the process. The story is set in the Victorian England so while a lot of people were getting rich, there also was a lot of despair present, especially in the way women were treated, as possessions and with no rights, other than the ones bestowed upon them by men. All the more praise to Ellen then for having the strength of character and enough perseverance to survive and be successful in this world of men. My only problem (besides the infamous synopsis) is that the story ended too neatly and very improbably. Maybe it's the cynic in me but what happened was just too predictable and I wish it had ended differently. Not necessarily in any kind of tragedy, but just not the way it did (I can't divulge more because it would spoil the book).