25 September 2017

Overdue Book Review: Royal Pains by Leslie Carroll

As 2017 lumbers along, I am finally making good on my New Year's Resolutions: fewer television documentaries featuring hunky archeologists or crashed air planes and more royal biographies. Still drawing from my "purchased in 2011" stack of unread "new" books, I have recently completed Leslie Carroll's Royal Pains: A Rogue's Gallery of Brats, Brutes, and Bad Seeds. All in all, it is an easy read presented in thoroughly modern language for a contemporary audience seeking fast (and titillating) stories more than deep and penetrating histories.

Carroll began her career and built her reputation as a historical novelist, using pen names Amanda Elyot and Juliet Grey, so she has a deft touch with narrative within a historical setting. She also clearly has a keen interest in the historical characters she chooses to enliven and a more than passing fancy for scandalous scuttlebutt. Before Royal Pains, her two previous works of nonfiction focused on notorious royal marriages and royal affairs. (She has since added several more works of collected biographies to her repertoire.)

I found Royal Pains easy to read, even addictive. However, I was sometimes distracted by the 21st-century terminology employed throughout the work, terms like "BFF". Even the use (overuse) of the term "psychopath" I found a bit disturbing as it is not only a term but also a concept that is modern in every way. Of course, she does provide evidence of psychopathy when she uses it, but it feels more forensic than the rest of the narrative warrants. Carroll also takes great "pains" to tell the reader that both Ivan the Terrible and Vlad the Impaler are considered national heroes among their countrymen, but she never fully explains why this is.

Which leads me to my second disappointment with the book: the selection of historical figures. In the foreword, Carroll explains that she did not have a definition of a "royal pain" beyond the idea of "brats, brutes, and bad seeds" when she started the book. This lack of parameter has led to an odd collection of characters. For instance, no matter how scandalous Princess Margaret's behavior, I would never put her in the same "bad seed" category as the Blood Countess Elizabeth Bathory. With Carroll's light, witty and sometimes even jolly approach to her subjects, I would rather have seen her focus on the less horrific personages. Prince Albert Victor and Princess Margaret, even foolish King John and possibly evil King Richard III would be completely out of place when confronted with Ivan, Vlad and Elizabeth. It would have been better to have one book focused on the possibly mentally deranged and another on the merely spoiled or entitled.

Overall though, it is an enjoyable read, divided into easily digestible segments.

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