Maybe it’s me, but historical fiction gets tricky when it’s about someone well-known and well-documented. Given that historical fiction is my go-to, comfort genre in reading and that history is the place where I get sucked into the most rabbit holes and want to read all the things… this complicates my Reading Life in rather creative ways. As relates to VALHALLA by Alan Robert Clark, the British royal family is something I’ve read a lot about and still want to read more. And so I requested the chance to read this story of Princess Mary of Teck, later Queen Mary.
Queen Mary was someone I knew from reading history as the grandmother to Queen Elizabeth II, mother to the Duke of Windsor, fiancee of the prince who might have (but was not) Jack the Ripper, and a bit of a kleptomaniac. Simple facts and a public image that was carefully crafted, but not much more. And yet she has fascinated me since I first found her as a steadfast queen whose husband led England during World War I and buried her son, the next king, after World War II.
And I’ve wanted to know more.
I could have read a biography, I’m sure, but that’s always a bit intimidating.
So VALHALLA fit the thing I wanted.
Three things matter most in historical fiction:
1) Sticking to historical fact and detail, not changing history to fit the story.
2) Making the conversations and interactions feel… possible in the part of history they are set in.
3) ~if about a real, well-known person~ Staying true to what is known and how the people are known to have behaved and carried on.
VALHALLA ticks each of those boxes.
As someone prone to falling down rabbit holes of research for fun, the events described in the novel follow with known history and no one has some sort of technology that they shouldn’t.
Though there are not too many first-person written accounts of the lives of royalty in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, there is much contemporary fiction and the interactions between Mary (or May, as she was known to family and friends) and her family and staff feel very real and possible.
Queen Mary is known for putting duty first and above all else, and that carries through in the novel.
What Alan Robert Clark adds to the story is that May is and was a young girl and a young woman, with all the thoughts and feelings and desires that young women have. Born into a family that prized titles and prestige, her path was laid out early on and the way Clark describes how she might have struggled to adjust and adapt and even to abandon that which her heart desired is stunning.
And, perhaps most important of all, VALHALLA made me want to learn more… and I will.
(Thank you to Fairlight Books and NetGalley for the chance read this advance copy of VALHALLA. All thoughts expressed in this review are my own, and not influenced by anyone associated with the book.)