For anyone like me who eats up shows like Downton Abbey, an endorsement on the front of a book saying “Please read the great Fay Weldon. Downton Abbey for smart, literate readers!” would have you grabbing it as quickly as possible. Add to that the fact that she wrote the first episode of the original television series Upstairs/Downstairs, another show I really enjoy, and I was itching to start reading. Long Live the King, Ms. Weldon’s second book in her Edwardian trilogy, is pure immersion in the upper crust world of the rich and/or titled at the turn of the 20th century. The book itself is rich in period detail, political drama and characters that are almost too eccentric to believe.
While the story shows the reader the thoughts and actions of many characters, the central few are those of the Earl and Countess of Dilberne and their brood. The reader is plopped down in the middle of this rich and aristocratic family and their involvement in the preparations for Edward VII’s coronation, with all the drama, stress and jealousies that would occur around such a momentous and over the top event. Diamonds, expensive clothes and palaces abound and it was very entertaining being immersed in this glittering high society that I would never be privy to otherwise.
This fly-on-the-wall perspective, while informative and entertaining, also serves to put some distance between the reader and the always active goings-on of the characters. While this may be fitting for this proper, elitist environment, I always prefer feeling a part of the story’s action instead of being told what is going on. I would have also enjoyed more from the perspectives of honest and good natured “downstairs” characters. The few we get to see all seem grasping and gossipy and tended to be shown in passing instead of given time to tell their stories.
The most interesting aspect of the novel for me had to do with Adela, the recently orphaned niece of Earl Dilberne. I couldn’t help but feel for her as she dealt with the deaths of her rather cruel parents and then her utter abandonment by her family when neither side stepped up to claim her. Having her carry along the storyline dealing with the fascination the English had during this time for all things spirits and afterlife was clever. Watching her become a part of a charlatan’s plans to trick people into believing they could pay to make contact with their loved ones on the other side and then getting hints that maybe Adela actually has some special healing abilities, something that may be discussed further in the final book in the trilogy (I would hope), kept me intrigued when the rest of the plot began to get tedious.
Long Live the King is for fans of Downton Abbey but I would warn those who love that show as much as I do not to expect to really feel for these characters as I do for those on the show. The characters are entertaining but not overly memorable or sympathetic. I might pick up the final book in the series to see how the Dilberne’s story ends but I’m not biting at the bit to get it as with other much-loved series I enjoy.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, and their dogs Oliver and Cleopatra. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship. You can find more of her reviews on her blog.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.