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Mar 2, 2009


"At Court with the Prince of Wales, before WWII darkened a world of glamour and grace."
REVIEW: Palace Circle, by Rebecca Dean

ISBN 13: 9780767930550 ISBN 10: 076793055X

As mentioned in a previous entry, I acquired this book as an advance copy from Carol at The BookReporter. I couldn't wait to delve into this as it is a bit off my recent path of Medieval to Tudor genres. The previews speak of 18 yr. old Delia who marries Viscount Ivor Conisborough just before WWII where she becomes part of Windsor Court. They have two daughters, she has an affair with her husband's best friend, they have to go to Cairo. Essentially they are trading one Palace Circle for another, her husband having a prominent financial advisor position to royalty. Delia and her daughters are torn from loyalties to the British and Egypt who is trying to get out of Britain's grasp. I was hoping it would not be complete chick-lit material but that it would offer a view of the reality of the time period.

The first night I began to read it, I was interested in Delia's story as she gets married, moves from Virginia to England, has kids.. and the story seemed to be written just as fast as that sentence was. As a reader, we like Delia as a person but her character was pretty blah. Not a lot of depth. She has an affair because her husband has an affair. No qualms about it, nothing special. The actual events in the story are, again, a whirlwind but the writing itself flows so easy you are still enjoying the read.

Set against a supposedly magnificent backdrop of World War II in Britain, I was expecting perhaps a bit more 'history', but the war moved along speedily in the beginning with friends and acquaintances going off to fight somewhere and some came back and some didn't. Just as fast as that and pretty much no true emotion.

Just as quick, her husband is transferred to Cairo and Delia's eldest skips a few years to 16 and is enjoying Egypt. That's all in the first 115 pages, which comprised "Part One: Delia; 1911-1930". Part Two is "Petra: 1930-1934". Now we are dealing with young Petra and her social life in Cairo, and who she thinks she loves and why. This is when we are getting pretty annoyed by the shallowness with the main characters. Then there are Parts 3, 4 & 5 focusing more on some of the other characters. This is Phillippa Gregory style and although it gets tiresome when it is done as a narration from characters going back and forth and back again, seperating it into parts works better then the former.

When I read a good Historical Fiction novel, after I put it down I typically go and find a non-fiction book on that time period or a certain event in that time period. From this novel there really isn't anywhere to begin because I was still as confused about it when I finished the book as I was before I picked it up. The people mentioned such as Winston Churchill seemed to just be added for effect. I just didn't have that desire to learn more. I hate to sound so critical of this author's debut, but these are just my opinions of course. And perhaps this is not intended to be a Historical Fiction novel.

The back of the book warns that it has a "fast-paced" plot. But it also said that it was unpredictable and I am not so sure I can agree with that. The premise for the novel was wonderful and made me want to read it; I would have preferred more insights into the various characters, and the reality of their current events which I would have expected to be more crucial. We never truly get the sense of the blurb that is on the cover about WWII darkening her world of glamour and grace. Delia and her daughters always seemed to have anything she wanted being beautiful and rich. Whatever problems came her way did not seem to phase her in the least. There are major personal family difficulties going on which really could have used a lot more interesting dialogue. With the suggested expanded material the author could've made this book into two novels instead. The fact that it doesn't drone on and on about anything doesn't make this book a bore, and the fact that it does indeed move swiftly may enhance it's readability to some. I think there will be some people who prefer more substance, and some others who would just enjoy a good read. If you would like a quick read, this is the book for you. But I must say after getting through all 5 parts of the book I was not thrilled with the ending, which seemed to be a bit abrupt.

Overall, it's not bad, it's not awesome. So I'll give it 3 stars.