Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Edelweiss
Read: February 10, 2016

Based on a seldom-told true story, this novel is perfect for everyone who is fascinated by Britain’s royal family—a behind the scenes look into the nurseries of little princes and the foibles of big princes. April, 1897: A young nanny arrives at Sandringham, ancestral estate of the Duke and Duchess of York. She is excited, exhausted—and about to meet royalty... So begins the unforgettable story of Charlotte Bill, who would care for a generation of royals as their parents never could. Neither Charlotte—LaLa, as her charges dub her—nor anyone else can predict that eldest sons David and Bertie will each one day be king. LaLa knows only that these children, and the four who swiftly follow, need her steadfast loyalty and unconditional affection. But the greatest impact on Charlotte’s life is made by a mere bud on the family tree: a misunderstood soul who will one day be known as the Lost Prince. Young Prince John needs all of Lala’s love—the kind of love his parents won’t…or can’t... show him. From Britain’s old wealth to the glittering excesses of Tsarist Russia; from country cottages to royal yachts, and from nursery to ballroom, Charlotte Bill witnesses history. The Royal Nanny is a seamless blend of fact and fiction—an intensely intimate, yet epic tale spanning decades, continents, and divides that only love can cross.

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Charlotte Bill and Prince John
I requested a review copy of Karen Harper’s The Royal Nanny with half-hearted curiosity. I had a vague historic interest in George V and his family, but I can’t say I was chomping at the bit to experience a fictional account of Prince John and his beloved nurse, Charlotte Bill. In retrospect, this lack of enthusiasm is rather embarrassing as it represents a severe understatement of both author and subject matter, but it is something I gladly cop to in order to emphasize how profoundly impressed I was on completing the narrative. 

Harper’s pen bewitched my imagination in such a way that even now, weeks after completing The Royal Nanny, I find myself at a loss for words. I’m a picky reader and there are a few things I’d have loved to see Harper elaborate on over the course of this story, but those details are so insignificant that they don’t bear mentioning. At the end of the day, my wants stem from a desire for more time with certain members of Harper’s cast and I don’t feel it appropriate to criticize when the root cause of my comments is in fact adoration and praise. 

Charlotte proved a charmingly endearing heroine in my eyes. She isn’t particularly complex in terms of disposition and temperament, but her internal struggles and personal relationships are so intimately drawn that it’s hard not to be moved by her experiences. There is an authenticity in her character that pulls at the heartstrings and despite knowing how events would unfold, I often found myself lost in both her joys and sorrows. Society has changed a lot in the last hundred years, but the intensely personal ramifications of her career choices felt relevant even by contemporary standards. Charlotte could not have everything she wanted in life and watching her accept that reality and find her own happiness despite that which life denied her was truly inspiring.

The children themselves added another layer of depth to novel. Harper took great care to depict each in a way that would complement their real life experiences and I loved how her attention to detail manifested itself through her adolescent cast. I often found myself exasperated with Edward, sympathetic toward Albert, and delighted with Mary. Henry and George play smaller roles, but the moments they share with Charlotte also hint at the trials their historical counterparts faced as adults. John’s relationship with Charlotte is different, but appropriately so. In many ways John was her child and I felt the shift seen in narrative as he grows fitting in light of the situation and circumstances of the life they shared. 

My favorite element of the story, however, was Chad. He wasn’t a character I’d anticipated and his role caught me entirely off guard. I worried about his relevance in the early chapters, but soon realized his importance and admire how Harper used him to round out and challenge Charlotte throughout the story. He’s the perfect counterbalance and I think he brings out something in Charlotte that is often overlooked when examining her legacy and involvement with the royal family. 

At the end of the day, I can’t recommend The Royal Nanny highly enough. Author Sandra Byrd dubbed it compulsively page-turning and I couldn’t agree more. It is a brilliant illuminating novel that affords exceptional insight to the world of Britain’s monarchs, their children, and their staff.  

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It seemed that these glorious ­people in their silks and satins and jewels glittered as much as the gifts and the tree. And to think, Mabel and Rose had both told me that more gifts would be given to the downstairs staff and estate workers in a week on New Year’s Day, another time for celebration and a party. But for me, among these glittering ­people who ruled the realm, a new year—­a new life—­had already begun.
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