Eliza dreams of being a playwright for the king’s theater, where she will be admired for her witty turns of phrase rather than her father’s wealth. Beth is beautiful as the day but poor as a church mouse, so she must marry well, despite her love for her childhood sweetheart. Zabby comes to England to further her scientific studies—and ends up saving the life of King Charles II. Soon her friendship with him becomes a dangerous, impossible obsession. Though she knows she should stay away from the young, handsome king, Charles has a new bride, Queen Catherine, and a queen needs ladies in waiting. And so Zabby, Beth, and Eliza, three Elizabeths from very different walks of life, find themselves at the center of the most scandal-filled court that England has ever seen.
Okay, right off the bat, I want to tell you how weird this one was. Lots of casual talk of virginity, enemas, rape, et cetera. Beth’s mother is this insane caricature of a mad syphilis patient, screaming (in the King’s presence) about preserving her daughter’s virginity at all costs. At one point, she even makes a field doctor inspect Beth to make sure she’s still a virgin. It’s pretty gross. I’m not sure why Sullivan went with that plot line, but it drove me nuts. Want to know who else drives me nuts? Zabby. Her name is freaking Zabby, how could she not annoy me? She’s in love with the King, but is in denial. She doesn’t want him to try and seduce her, but she’s depressed when he doesn’t. Make up your mind, Zabby. King’s mistresses had their lives set if they played it the right way, you know. Eliza…elicited very little response from me, though I imagine she looks like Rumer Willis with the way she’s described. Luckily, the book moves rather quickly and the story is really easy to get into.
Because this is romance, the book focuses mainly on, what else, the girls’ romances! I already mentioned Zabby’s crush on the King. Eliza is sneaking around with a playwright or an actor (I can’t remember which), pretending she’s a man, because the best way to catch a man is to pretend you’re his best friend. Oh, Eliza. You and Zabby are in the same boat, romantically. Finally we have Beth, who is in love with Harry Something, a man with no fortune who has turned to highway robbery to make his way. Wow. So, Beth picked a real winner there. They are all equally sure of their feelings and equally naive, just in different ways. Zabby annoyed me the most because all she did was moan and talk about science, but Beth came in close second with her talk of “true love” and all kinds of stuff I personally don’t believe in. I never really felt close to any of these characters either, which was sad.
Something that really bothered me about this one? Rape. There are constant references to rape, rape of women, rape of love, rape, rape, rape. It’s really jarring, and though it seems to have its place in the story, I think the story could have been told quite sufficiently without all the casual mentions of rape and ravishment. I was uncomfortable and wanted to walk away whenever something like that was brought up. It freaked me out a lot. It’s not even just rape, but sex in general was brought up much much more than it needed to be. Now, I like sex, I like romance, I like reading about it, but in this novel it just felt gratuitous and sleazy. It sort of ruined it for me.
Saying all that, however, I really liked the ending. I don’t know why. It just worked for me in a way the majority of this one didn’t. I’m not sure how I want to end this one, with a recommendation or with a warning. Maybe a bit of both. If sleazy sex and casual rape doesn’t bother you or if you’re better at ignoring things than me, you’ll like this one, because the history is interesting and the girls have personalities. I think for my next historical adventure, I’ll stay away from the romance.