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The King's Favorite: A Novel of Nell Gwyn and King Charles II Paperback – July 1, 2008
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About the Author
Susan Holloway Scott is the author of more than forty historical novels and novellas. Writing under her own name as well as Miranda Jarrett, her bestselling books have received numerous awards and honors. With more than three million copies of her books in print, she has been published in nineteen countries around the world. Her most recent historical novels have been set in seventeenth-century England, in the decadent, politically charged court of King Charles II, and all have been Historical Novels Review Editors' Choice titles. She is a graduate of Brown University, and lives with her family outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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Nell is a tiny scrap of a woman with a huge personality and an even bigger heart. The story of her rise from a dingy London whorehouse, to orange girl at the King's Theatre, to a player at said theatre, to finally, the King's mistress, is one filled with wit and laughter, but also pain and suffering. With an abusive, alcoholic, whoring mother, and a sister who's following in her footsteps, Nell decides she wants more for herself and does everything she can to achieve this goal. However, she does it honestly, using her extraordinary wit and gift of making people laugh, not by scheming and backstabbing, as so many others of her time did.
I absolutely recommend this if you're at all interested in British history. I've spent a good deal of time in Tudor-Era England, so it was a nice change of scenery for me to read about Restoration England, a period I knew hardly anything about. I will say, the ONLY issue I had (and the reason for 4 stars and not 5)...it was a tad long. It seemed, towards the end of the novel, that we'd been down that road before...Rochester's crazy antics, Buckingham's traitors ways, and all the grievances with Parliament...got a little repetitive. Overall though, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Ms. Scott is a wonderful storyteller, and I'll DEFINITELY be picking up her other novels.
The author strove to make Nell Gwyn funny and witty but was way off the mark. She succeeded only in making her tiresome, annoying, and boring. The author left me wondering why Charles II would have even given her the time of day, much less made her his mistress for many years.
Add bad dialogue to the mix and the inability to make anyone found within the pages of the book remotely interesting, and one has a book that is pure drudgery to read. Reading it was most definitely a hard slog and not at all enjoyable. I love historical fiction, but this book missed the mark.
Nell Gwyn may have been the lowest born, poorest and shortest of Charles' many mistresses, but she was also the longest lasting, one most liked by the pubic, and probably by the king himself. Even after her meteoric rise from a whore's daughter to an orange seller in the theater pits, to actress and finally to the royal bed, heart and conscious she never forgot her original motto and self-declared purpose in life-to make people laugh. And it was as a comedian that she won the Kings notice, favor, long interest (which lasted an unprecedented seventeen years) and probable love, which caused the "Merry Monarch's" last words to be of her.
Scot's Nell is charming, bawdy, often gross in humor, prone to pranks and not shy about hitting her enemies below the belt with jokes. But she's also kind, immensely smart and worldly wise and completely loyal to her king-making her probably the only selfless person in his life. It is easy to see why she was the original model for a "whore with a heart of Gold" (though I hate to see sexual independence-even if a man is paying for your house and clothes- called whoring.) It is a delight to read her stories which ring with yet another completely distinctive (from Scott's other novels) first person voice. And have no fear-though they cover much the same time span there is virtually no overlap between "The King's Favorite" and "Royal Harlot" and the novels can easily be read independent of one another.
But just as she was in real life, this fictional Nell has picked up a flair for the dramatic. Many, many chapters in this book end with portents of doom-great tidings of negative change ahead that never really comes around. Of course Nell's life was constantly changing and she went through her fair share of drama in the court and with the King, but it's never portrayed in a way that seemed like it affected her. Her constant laughing at life attitude and determination not to vex the king but just to "make him laugh" downplay the tragedies of Nell life, the injustices she was forced to endure because of her low birth- and the drama of the novel.
In addition, while Nell's loyalty to the King is unquestioning, their relationship is based more on friendship (and sex) then anything that really resembles passionate love. So if you're looking for a harlequin romance type love story, this isn't for you. However if you prefer your great love stories to arise out of friendship and a true connection, you will love the tender relationship between Charles and Nell.
It's a great skill to be able to write a novel a year. Especially historical fiction, which is done well, as this author does, involves a great deal of research. But it also is such a small time frame that things get overlooked. Though "The King's Favorite" is a highly enjoyable novel, with a much more appealing protagonist then "Royal Harlot" I can't say the quality of writing is the same. In particular I point to the ending-which seems to come out of nowhere, jolting you out of the story and into a brick wall instead of a gradual build up to the final climax or conflict of the novel. But that is a common issue when a novel is biographical instead of plot based as this, and all of Scott's novels are.
All in all this is a novel to enjoy, to have fun with and laugh with. In terms of the story it makes Barbara Palmers novel look a bit dull, and Sara Churchill's a little humorless but the downplay of the dramatic and the ending mean that "Royal Harlot" and Duchess: A Novel of Sarah Churchill are the superior in writing style.
Three point five stars.
Ms. Scott is a worthy addition to the ranks of the finest historical writers - such as Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt, Margaret Mitchell, Alison Weir and Margaret George. Her books are so well-written they read more like autobiographies than novels. "King's Favorite" is a page-turner, so be prepared to lay in some snacks and stay up all night to finish it. Very, very, very well done.