Firstly, this book has continued a trend across my 2020 reading that this year is proving to be a good year for beautifully designed navy and gold covers between Hamnet, The Court of Miracles and The Puritan Princess. Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Puritan Princess which will continue through to Monday 27th of July and I’ve included the banner below so please make sure to check out the other awesome book bloggers also posting reviews.
London, 1657. The youngest daughter of Oliver Cromwell, eighteen-year-old Frances is finding her place at England’s new centre of power.
Following the turmoil of Civil War, a fragile sense of stability has returned to the country. Her father has risen to the unprecedented position of Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, and Frances has found herself transported from her humble childhood home to the sumptuous palaces of Hampton Court and Whitehall, where she dreams of a love match that must surely be found at court.
Will she become a political pawn, or can Frances use her new status to seize control and further her own ambitions?
I have always included historical fiction in my list of favourite genres. However, I’m the first to admit that I have yet to branch out from my introduction into historical fiction and the very specific tastes I have developed. Specifically, I am a huge royal history geek starting with the Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses and Tudors, which are my favourite historical periods to read about. After watching several documentaries and reading non-fiction I stumbled across Philippa Gregory’s series of novels as the basis for my favourite historical fiction TV drama The White Queen and I adore their audiobook forms, specifically all of those narrated by Bianca Amato, The White Princess narrated by Sarah Feathers and The Other Boleyn Girl narrated by Vanessa Kirby.
So, you can imagine the thrill I experienced when a request to review a newly released historical fiction, similarly told from the perspective of a female relation of a more famous man, focused in the ever-evolving court and set in a period not too far removed from my area of “armature expertise”. I was also immediately drawn to read this after reading about Malins’ experience after completing a PhD. As I’m hoping to undertake a PhD myself one day, I always find it encouraging to find authors who have completed a PhD channelling their extensive research into creative methods and making the general public aware of their topic.
I must admit my knowledge of Oliver Cromwell, and especially the period between his accession and ultimate restoration of Charles II is one I have not covered explicitly since my primary school education. Even after this, I admit I predominately imagined Oliver Cromwell slotting into the comical presentation of Puritans shown on Horrible Histories. So, as I hope many do, I dived into this book with a hunger to learn as much as possible about Frances Cromwell, his family, his court and the man behind the myth.
I was not disappointed. This book truly captured my heart for so many reasons. At the centre of those is the character of Frances Cromwell. Malins excels at the challenge to craft a personality from letters, dates and names. Frances’ progression throughout this turbulent national narrative is filled with so much heart and her joy, grief, ambition and despondence exquisitely jump from the page and you truly feel with her. The consistently careful balance of her emotions across the competing demands of her family, relationship and political placement which made this narrative journey so compelling, engaging and enjoyable is a testament to Malins’ research and skill to go beyond encapsulating emotion on a page and ensure her reader feels the emotions of her characters.
As important as the politics and schemes are, the beating heart of this novel is family. Specifically, the Cromwell family form a heartwarming, moving and surprisingly relatable heart. The differing perspectives of two sets of sisters, Bridget and Elizabeth as an elder pair seeing their father fight in wars and rise through the bloodshed and Mary and Frances as a younger pair who have largely only known the luxurious panic of Oliver’s political battles attempting to hold his newfound power, formed a subtle but intriguing reflection of the multiple political perspectives surrounding them. In Mary Cromwell, Frances’ closest sister, their mother Elizabeth and even Oliver Cromwell himself Malins has created several characters whose love for Frances, love of their wider family, their beliefs (both religious and political) jump off the page to equal Frances’ emotions. All of her characters are equally engaging and, whereas their scenes within the novel are judged to perfection, I wanted to immediately re-start this book to read more from them, their conversations and debates.
This novel certainly introduced me to new seemingly contradictory aspects of Oliver Cromwell’s nature. As Malins’ summarises in her historical note he did love many of the pursuits and activities he is, sometimes incorrectly, credited with abolishing or banning. However, vitally, the novel presents a father and husband first. His character lives up to his reputation for excellent matchmaking across his daughters and you feel the familial love between this varied family who, when to strip the narrative to political views alone as many biographies may do, should not get on as well as they do here. Vitally, familial obligation and love are allowed a place at the table in Malins’ work alongside politics. However, striking the correct measure of the two ensures a novel of romance, intrigue and reliance on political fortunes.
I have saved my two favourite parts of this novel for last. Firstly, Frances’ relationship with Robert Rich. I don’t typically highlight romances as my favourite aspects of novels, particularly not historical fiction, however, this novel just kept surprising me. Initially, Robert is not a character to be thought on as much as other major players in the political game surrounding Frances, however, due to the intricate pacing of their relationship, I adored their quick-witted argumentative flirting style and its evolution throughout into a well-matched ability to discuss the key topics of their time.
Secondly, Malins’ plotting and structuring of this novel, along with her exquisite writing style. It is not hyperbolic but clear and concise. I’m lucky to have read this in e-book form as I highlighted so many sentences or passages from conversations which elegantly summarised each character’s perspective and argument. Favourites of mine are conversations between Frances and her father Oliver Cromwell as they simultaneously call on elegant metaphor to vouch for political arguments but also speak plainly to each other as only relatives, especially in this era, could. The novel is intricately plotted to rely on an ingeniously written prologue and epilogue which perfectly encompasses the highs and lows of Frances’ journey. Similarly, I found an excellent balance between historical fact, engaging fictional narrative and inclusion of certain myths which brings them to life. However, I can’t deny that certain moments broke my heart to read.
I think we can all tell that I loved this book. I was so happy to finally branch out and find not only a fascinating historical period, filled with both facts and myths but also a writer I admire greatly. I highly recommend this novel to anyone looking to learn more about Oliver Cromwell and his court, to both seasoned and new readers of historical fiction and to those looking to read enthralling families and impassioned witty romances. I will certainly be reading any of Malins’ future releases following the success of The Puritan Princess.
QOTD: Are you a historical fiction reader? If so, which period of history do you enjoy reading about the most? Let me know in the comments below!
The Puritan Princess was published, in hardback (also available in ebook and audio), by Orion on the 2nd of April 2020.
I was invited to take part in the blog tour for The Puritan Princess by Gabriella from MidasPR. Following my acceptance, which will always result in an honest review, I downloaded a final e-book copy from Net Galley, and the link was provided by MidasPR. Thank you to Gabriella and MidasPR for this opportunity.
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