Series: Palace of Spies #1
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on November 5, 2013
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
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A warning to all young ladies of delicate breeding who wish to embark upon lives of adventure: Don't.
Sixteen-year-old Peggy is a well-bred orphan who is coerced into posing as a lady in waiting at the palace of King George I. Life is grand, until Peggy starts to suspect that the girl she's impersonating might have been murdered. Unless Peggy can discover the truth, she might be doomed to the same terrible fate. But in a court of shadows and intrigue, anyone could be a spy—perhaps even the handsome young artist with whom Peggy is falling in love...
History and mystery spark in this effervescent series debut.
Let’s start with the AWESOME book trailer, shall we?
Fans of Etiquette and Espionage will (should) love Palace of Spies.
I try to refrain from doing this- but after reading the book and giving it five stars on Goodreads, I scanned some of the less than stellar reviews of the novel. One reviewer commented that the book had ”casual racism” in it and I was a little perplexed by this.
There were no instances of ”casual racism”, just social norms that were true to the time period which is to be expected in a true-to-form Historical Fiction novel. Even with that being said, there wasn’t anything insensitive to a particular race in this novel that I can recall.
Moving on, I read A LOT of Historical Fiction. I’m not easily impressed when it comes to the HF, and I absolutely LOVED this novel. Palace of Spies was pitch perfect for me. Sara Zettel really nailed the historical voice and feel of the time period.
A sample of Sarah Zettel’s lovely writing:
Whatever indignation I felt was entirely banished by the sudden intrusion of complete bewilderment. Separately, all things made sense. Sebastian’s hand under my chin was warm. His eyes were blue. His brow, beneath the line of his tidy wig, was wide and clear. His mouth was inclined to smile. It was the details that threatened to overwhelm: how one corner of his mouth tipped softly upward, how his long, thick lashes curved as he half closed those blue eyes to concentrate on his task. The soft, persistent pattering of the linen against my face. The crook of his strong finger under my chin and the way in which he guided my head to turn slightly to the left so he could minister to another portion of my wounded cheek.
Although the majority of this book could be considered suitable for Mid-grade readers, it gradually matured as far as context/content goes and felt like a solid YA by the end of it.
Monarchs: King George I, Caroline- Princess of Wales, Frederick-Prince of Wales (King George II)
The settings and descriptions were splendid as the female protagonist, Peggy Fitzroy, assumes her spot under a false identity as one of Princess Caroline’s Maids of Honor in King George I’s court. There are three major location settings, but most of our intrigue and spying takes place at the maze-like Hampton Court Palace.
Some lovely interior/exterior views of Hampton Court Palace where the story takes place:
The premise of the novel is familiar enough: Girl is an orphan with no rights of her own-Girl is forced to betroth a most unamiable man of stature and wealth-Girl refuses betrothal and is disowned by uncle-Girl is forced to accept a mysterious proposition by one who offers to take her in.
Palace of Spies was a page turner for me. The pacing was enjoyable and the Royal mystery was extremely fun and quite possible for the time period. Sarah Zettel has obviously been meticulous in her research of court customs, fashion, affairs, and cosmetics. The author seriously immerses the reader in this time period and the socio-political atmosphere during George the first’s reign.
While reading this I was reminded of a film or two I have seen before, but cannot recall their names at the moment. There was a sort of immersion into action/dialogue/plot, and then moments where time would stand still as the protagonist observed something/realized something/assessed a situation. Maybe like the intro of 2011’s Three Musketeers film– where things are sped up and then slowed down? You know what cinema effect I’m talking about.
Sarah Zettel’s syntax and style is ridiculously good. It might possibly be distractingly good, at first, to the reader because of how ”historical” it sounds, but I found I quickly adapted to the narration.
The narrative is written as a sort of memoir of Peggy Fitzroy, and each chapter begins with a fun heading like:
“In Which Our Heroine Perfects Her Role, Renews Acquaintances, And Unfolds Fresh Mysteries.”
When I read a historical novel that is set amidst the backdrop of a court and involves real historical monarchs, I usually NEED for the historical context to be accurate, and Sarah Zettel does just that. She’s weaved Peggy’s story in and out of accurate descriptions of the history and prominent people of this time period. This is NOT an alternate history novel. There is just a believable fictitious story thrown in. During Peggy’s palace adventure, we see: King George I, Prince and Princess of Wales, Robert Walpole, Isaac Newton, G.F. Handel, the list goes on.
Below: Newton, Walpole, and Handel
I absolutely LOVED that Sarah Zettel put things in perspective by including other non-fictional characters from the world of science, music, and court politics to give the reader an idea of what else was going on in the world during this time period, even if they were just briefly referenced.
There is a touch of forbidden romance that promises much more in the sequel: Dangerous Deceptions. I wholeheartedly enjoyed this book and am now a Sarah Zettel fangirl. I recommend the Palace of Spies series to fans of Gail Carriger. Although, I don’t want to lean too heavily on drawing comparisons between the two because Sarah Zettel’s work deserves to stand alone on its own merits (I enjoyed PoS WAY MORE than E&E). Have you read Palace of Spies? Do share your thoughts. 🙂
And just for fun:
“Water Music” by Handel (1717) – This was played for King George and his royal guests.