The Golden Prince – Rebecca Dean (book review Sunday)

19 February 2012

Edward VIII became notorious for abandoning the throne for Mrs Simpson, but in the summer of 1911 he was a prince straight from the pages of a fairy-tale. Raised by the harsh disciplinarian King George V and his unfeeling Queen Mary, the prince longed for the warmth that had been deprived of him.

The high society Houghton girls’ lives however, were full of fun, both at their magnificent family seat Snowberry, and at the whirlwind of glamorous parties which punctuated their lives. When a moment of serendipity brings Edward and Lily Houghton together, the pressures of a stuffy court are replaced with the lightness that Edward has dreamt of.

But a future monarch could not choose his own Queen, and even an enduring love might falter under the furious gaze of a King. Could the devotion of Edward and Lily triumph against him and the impending doom of World War I? Or would they bow to the inevitable and set in train events that could bring down the Crown, and change the course of history forever?’

As soon as I read the product description for The Golden Prince by Rebecca Dean on Amazon, I was hooked and absolutely HAD to read it. My personal preference is for novels set in the high society of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but I have a bit of a soft spot for the early twentieth century too – the period of Downton Abbey, beautiful Grand Duchesses, the Titanic, Egyptian excavations and handsome princes – pretty much all of which are here for the reader to feast upon.

The Golden Prince opens with David, the seventeen year old Prince of Wales knocking Miss Rose Houghton, Oxford graduate and budding Suffragette from her bike while he is motoring from Dartmouth Naval College to Windsor Castle. Contrary to what one might suppose, he does not fall madly in love with Rose as she lies slightly winded in a ditch but with one of her trio of charming sisters and therein lies the focus of this rather gorgeous book.

The four delightful Houghton sisters are the heroines of this novel, taking the reader gently by the hand and leading them through the high society of pre WWI England where all is tea on the lawn, gentle motorings through quaint villages, excitement about the Coronation and a lot of interest in a very big and allegedly unsinkable ocean liner.

Rose, the eldest sister, is sensible, intelligent and keen to make a difference in a world that she perceives to be intrinsically unfair and unequal. Iris, the next sister is the Lady Edith of the family and has only marriage and babies on her mind – most specifically with the chinless Hugo, whose family own the neighbouring estate while the next sister, Marigold is a sultry redhead who regards her virginity as a terrible inconvenience to be shed as quickly as possible and has thrilling liaisons with MPs and Russian princes in between posing for shocking nude portraits and deciding that she wants to be a film star.

It is Lily, the youngest and most beautiful (naturally) of the sisters who is the heroine though and the one who captures the heart not just of the Prince of Wales but also pretty much every other man in a hundred mile radius. She is keen on Art and spends a lot of time making things out of clay and painting, while not realising the devastating effect that she has on all the menfolk.

I absolutely loved this book, although I did struggle a bit with some of the language used within it – did upper class girls in 1912 say ‘OK’ and refer to each other as ‘sexy’? They probably did, but as I said, I’m so used to books set earlier on that I was rather thrown by this. It’s also a bit odd to be reading books set in the era of motorcars, cameras, telegrams and telephones – when one writes books set before all of these modern excitements, it’s easy to forget just how much they move a plot along!

I really liked the central romance in The Golden Prince – although Lily and her sisters are entirely fictional, they feel real and I was completely swept away by the whole thing, even though I knew that, ultimately, it wasn’t going to end happily. Or did it? Everyone was paired off fairly neatly at the end in a way that reminded me irresistibly of Georgette Heyer’s novels and I think that, in this case at least, all’s well that ends well.

Although I adored the details of the Houghton girls’ lives, romances and problems, it was the brief glimpses into the lives of David and his family that I relished the most. It’s very rare to read a fictional version of George V, Queen Mary and their young family and I absolutely loved the scenes with them – in particular, of course, the brief and very sweetly touching scene with David and his youngest brother, John which inspired my recent blog post about him.

Ultimately, I would recommend The Golden Prince to pretty much everyone but especially those who are suffering Downton Abbey withdrawal…

Ps. The cover says that this is comparable to Philippa Gregory – I don’t personally see much resemblance between the two.

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