I didn't really have time for another book review this month, but when I got the email asking if I'd be interested in reviewing this one, I had to make the time to do it. I absolutely love this series and there was no way I was missing out on the chance to do another review for it. My mum and I have very different taste in reading material on the whole, but after I'd read them, I bought her the first couple in the series for her birthday. The next time I saw her, she was full of 'these brilliant books' she'd read and tried to lend them to me, as she thought I would really enjoy them too. I had to laugh as I reminded her that it was me who'd bought them for her. I was just delighted that she'd enjoyed them as much as I had! So, you can see why I was so keen to read this one.
I'd also been wondering how the series would be affected by the death of the Queen, as she was already quite old in the earlier books and I had feared that the series might end as a result. Instead, in this book we are taken back to the Queen's younger days. This had the potential to cause a few problems, because everyone knows about the Duke of Edinburgh's reputation in the early years of their marriage, even if we don't necessarily know the truth about it and I felt that potentially, this would be at odds with the way they had been portrayed thus far in the series. I needn't have worried! That particular subplot is handled beautifully and I LOVED the way it was resolved.
As I was reading this, I had a nagging feeling that I was already familiar with some of the elements and began wondering if there were parts of it that were taken from real life. In the author's notes at the end of the book, it turned out that there was some truth to the story, but not always the bits I'd thought were real. And therein lies the beauty of this book and indeed, the whole series. It is so brilliantly constructed and written that it feels like it could be true. All the aspects of palace life seem so true to life that the rest of the story also takes on a kind of authenticity.
There is an air of vulnerability about the Queen in this book, both in her uncertainty about her husband and about her reign as a whole and it's quite touching to see how she deals with both these things. I loved the character of Joan as well and I hope that as the series continues we'll see more of her as well as of some of the former assistants who had cameos in the earlier books (earlier in the series, but later in the timeline!).
I think the other thing that really appeals to me - and it's something I don't think had occurred to me up until reading this particular book - is how strong the female characters are. It's not just the Queen, it's those around her as well. That came across even more in this book because of the era it is set in. The attitudes of the male courtiers towards Joan are ridiculous by modern standards but are precisely what women were battling against at the time. I'm lucky, only once in my life have I ever really felt that someone didn't like me having an opinion simply because I was female, these women faced that struggle on a daily basis and there was far more at stake for them than there was for me on that one occasion (it was a person I'd only just met, was unlikely to ever meet again and whose opinion of me I couldn't have cared less about). As a nation, we seem to be renowned for cheering on the underdog and this was no exception. I was delighted to see Joan and the Queen outmanoeuvring the men around them and look forward to the release of the next book.
Oh, and I'll definitely be buying this for my mum too!