From Tudor palaces to Egyptian pyramids, there’s nothing like a good royal-themed novel to sweep you away to a new place when travel isn’t possible. The Royal Central team is sharing some of our recent favourite fiction picks.
Kristin Contino, Chief Reporter
Sister to Sister by Olivia Hayfield: I interviewed the author last year about her wonderful Henry VIII retelling, Wife After Wife, and the sequel is just as fantastic in a different way. Sister to Sister reimagines Elizabeth I and her half-sister, Mary, as Eliza and Maria, daughters of Harry Rose (aka Henry VIII) and competing heirs for his modern-day media empire. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Harry and Eliza, this novel is a fun read but also packed quite an emotional punch for me (I’m not too proud to admit I cried my eyes out!). Eliza’s best friends include William Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe, and Kit absolutely steals the spotlight and was my favourite character by far. You also might find yourself with an intense longing to travel to London as soon as COVID protocols permit.
Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen, both by Michelle Moran: In recent months I’ve been trying to expand my royal reading into monarchies and countries I don’t know as much about. I’ve always wanted to travel to Egypt so Michelle Moran’s excellent Egyptian series was where I started. Her storytelling really sweeps you away to the land of pyramids and ancient rulers and both books were full of drama and intrigue. I still need to pick up the third book, Cleopatra’s Daughter, and I know I’ll enjoy it just as much as the others.
Lydia Starbuck, Associate Editor
I absolutely loved the way the House of Windsor was woven into 2020’s wartime mystery, Stealing the Crown, by T.P Fielden. This skilful whodunnit starts with a murder behind the walls of Buckingham Palace and builds into a web of deceit which sees the very future of the Monarchy in question. The characters are well-drawn with jaded courtier, Guy Harford, leading the hunt for the killer helped by a bolshy cat burglar and a mysterious flatmate. On his way to the truth, he navigates a web of possibilities which place fictionalised versions of some of the 20th century’s most famous royals at the heart of the intrigue. I ploughed through this book on a hot summer’s day last year, it’s gripping and great fun all at the same time.
Bringing the most dramatic moments in royal history to life is a hard task. Often the bare bones of the tale are so well known, it is hard to do anything other than repeat them. However, the masterful storytelling in The Visit of the Royal Physician by Per Olov Enquist turns a well worn regal tragedy into a story that lingers long after the book is closed. This telling of the doomed affair between Caroline Matilda, wife of King Christian VII of Denmark, and Johann Friedrich Struensee has lust, love and lunacy within its neatly written pages. But this is much more than a bodice ripper with tiaras. At the heart of the novel is a battle of ideologies, brilliantly brought to life through exquisitely imagined characters. That elegance is carefully balanced with the drama of the story which is cleverly woven into a gripping tale with a tragic denouement that is told so vividly that it is still etched on my mind. This is a brilliant evocation of a royal tale often skimmed over but, more than anything else, it is an exquisite novel from a masterful author.
Jess Ilse, Senior Royal Reporter & Editorial Assistant
I love the way authors can bring life to small moments in history and create an entire world out of them. When I read The Gown by Jennifer Robson, about a dressmaker who works on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress in 1947, I was transported and transfixed to that time. In The Gown, we follow a dressmaker named Anne who tries to sort out her life and figure out a way forward in post-war Britain. That she’s been tasked to work on a future queen’s wedding dress is a great honour for her, and we get to see what life was like in those months leading up to the royal wedding when it was a source of hope for a recovering country. Add in a small mystery and a granddaughter in 2016 trying to figure out who her grandmother really was and you’ve got a great book to read!
If you’re transfixed by the controversial Duke and Duchess of Windsor, then you might be interested in the wonderfully-detailed and superbly-written The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams. Williams is a noted author of historical fiction and always manages to weave together a beautiful story with strong heroines in stunning locales. In this novel, her heroine, Lulu Randolph, is a journalist in the Bahamas at the beginning of the Second World War, where The Duke of Windsor is Governor. Lulu is tasked with reporting on all the ex-royals do but soon finds herself a part of their inner circle and with a bigger mystery on her hands.
Brittani Barger, Deputy Editor
One of my favourite royal-themed books (or series) is the American Royals series by Katharine McGee. Our Chief Reporter interviewed McGee about the first book in the series, which you can find here. The story is set in an alternate United States where the country has a monarchy instead of the presidential system (and with the craziness that has been going on in the U.S. lately, you can’t blame Americans for reading this to escape to a different reality!). The family of George Washington is on the throne, and it is full of drama, romance, and tragedy. The first book American Royals sets the tone for the two-book series while the second book Majesty takes off with a new monarch on the throne – America’s first queen!
I’m going back in time for this next book series as it is one I read while still in school (and it turned into a famous movie) – I’m talking about the Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot. Admittedly, I saw the movie first before diving into the books, but this is a series that I look back on and am happy that I read while I was younger. I mean, after watching the movie and reading the books, who didn’t end up dreaming about a long lost grandmother appearing and telling you that you were a princess and future monarch? It’s a true ugly duckling turning (Mia Thermopolis) into a beautiful swan (the Queen fo Genovia) story that makes us all smile.