The Prince of Mirrors
Alan Robert Clark
I have never been a fan of historical fiction but this book might just have changed my mind. The grandson of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert Victor, known as Eddy, is heir presumptive to the throne. At his core, he is a decent soul but lacks confidence and the necessary ability to take up the ultimate royal role. His father Bertie’s frustration with Eddy pours out in a tense conversation: ‘Most of the time you’re half-asleep and when you’re awake you hardly say a word.’ Eddy whimpers a response that he has always done his best.
Eventually, in a bid to kindle some kind of positive development in his son, Bertie finds a role model in intellectual tutor Jem Stephen: ‘Young Mr Stephen seems to be an excellent fellow. A scholar and a sportsman. Brains and brawn. Sound in mind and body. The perfect young Englishman. Just what we need you to become too.’
With much cajoling and encouragement, Jem sets to work to fill Eddy’s half-empty head with knowledge and ideas, finding ways to ignite his imagination and stir an appetite for learning and a fuller life. But as this life meanders on, Eddy struggles to find direction for himself emotionally, sexually, morally and aristocratically. He may not be a happy character but he is interesting as a formula that wealth and privilege are no guarantees for a good existence. The Jem/Eddy tutor/student arrangement develops into a close and intimate association. They grow to need each other. It is difficult to find them likeable but they did grab this reader's attention throughout.
The book illustrates the 19thcentury’s upper echelons very well and the story has pace. The dialogue is well-thought out and comes across as natural, unlike some historical novels I have attempted. In this drama, there is sadness but also humour at work, several layers of life lessons and analysis of success and failure. But above and beyond anything else, it is a great story.
All in all, a very enjoyable book.
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