A year after Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee terror mounts in the city’s slums. A killer has butchered two prostitutes, the crimes brutal even by London’s hardened standards. Rumors of the murders reach Princess Vicky, daughter of Queen Victoria and grieving widow of the German Emperor Frederick III. When her niece Princess Maud visits, she brings with her even worse news–the Metropolitan Police have a suspect. It’s Vicky’s nephew, Crown Prince Eddy. Desperate to clear her family’s name, Vicky rushes back to England.
Detective Inspector Thomas Edmondson believes there is a royal cover-up behind the killings. He will stop at nothing to expose the truth and bring a murderer to justice before he can kill again. But when Vicky joins him in searching for the man who will become known as Jack the Ripper, neither of them foresee the overpowering attraction that will draw together the royal and the commoner—or the danger their love puts them in.
It took every ounce of determination to say what he had promised himself he must say to her. “You have to leave. Now.” He moved her out of his arms, held her away from him, gave her a firm nod of his head.
She frowned. “You don’t want me?”
“Oh, Lord, woman. Want you?” His heart broke at the tremble in her voice and shadow of loss in her eyes. “Of course I do. But this is impossible. I can’t treat you like—” He couldn’t say it.
“Like one of these women whose murderer you’re chasing?” She laughed, and suddenly her smile was back. “Thomas, you’re not degrading me by taking me into your bed. Don’t you see how good you are for me? I don’t think I’ve smiled in a year. I haven’t been held in a man’s arms, or laughed, or sung a song … and now, because of you, I can do those things. There’s no reason why we can’t spend time together.”
He stepped back, putting more space between them. His only defense. Her nearness was like a drug he didn’t want to give up. “No. You’re wrong. There’s every reason why we can’t be together. There’s no future for us. It was wrong of me to make love to you. To continue will only hurt you. Me as well. Darling, this can’t end happily.”
“Why not?” She planted her feet, propped fists on her hips, looking and sounding more like her niece now—stubborn, wanting what she wanted without considering the consequences. “I don’t care what people think. I don’t care that our stations in life are so very different.”
“But it does matter to you, don’t you see? Just the fact that you’ve brought up class—that means you think about such things. Just as everyone else in the world does. A vast social gulf lies between us. I’ll never be welcome in your mother’s court. And you’d be—”
“She would accept you if I told her I wanted you there.”
“No.” He shook his head. “It won’t happen.”
“Then in my court. In Potsdam. There you will always be welcome, Thomas.”
He closed his eyes and sighed. He’d never been out of the country, hardly been out of London. He was a mudlark. A Whitechapel brat. Even the West End felt like a foreign land to him, enemy territory. “My precious empress. You are dreaming.”
She spun away from him, her shoulders rigid with anger. “Now you’re just making excuses. You’ve decided you don’t want me.” Without seeing her face he knew she was crying.
Instead of giving in to her, and to his own need, he reacted the only way that was safe. With anger.
“Stop it!” he shouted. “This has nothing to do with what I want. Don’t you understand? I came here tonight delirious with expectations, ecstatic, hoping you’d be here. But the moment I saw you—perfect you, royal you, an empress in my shabby room—I knew it wasn’t right. Did you actually imagine a future for us? You said I didn’t have to give my heart. You said you’d never marry again. How do you imagine you’d explain me to your family and others? Would you grant me a title and land in Germany? Create a fantasy world to legitimize me as your lover, your consort?”
She shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks, no longer trying to hide them from him. “I hadn’t thought—”
“No, of course not. And neither had I.”
Publisher and Release Date: Diversion Books, February 2014
Time and Setting: London, 1888
Genre: Historical Romance / Mystery
Heat Rating: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Caz
I read and reviewed the previous book in this series about the daughters of Queen Victoria last year, and although I had a few reservations, I thought the book was well written and that the historical detail and the fictional elements of the story were well blended. Like its predecessor, The Shadow Princess takes a member of the royal family as its main character and then builds its story around her; a story which is fictional but which makes use of historical fact.
The protagonist in this novel is Princess Victoria, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Empress of Germany, Victoria – or Vicky – is the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and at the beginning of the book, she has been recently widowed and is finding her life stifling and lacking purpose. Her son is becoming more and more unmanageable, his increasing hatred of the English colouring his relationship with her, and Vicky fears – not without reason (and as history bears out) – that Wilhelm’s reign will not be either pleasant or prosperous.
So Vicky is at a loss. Having been bred to be a queen and brought up to be a true helpmeet to her husband, she feels marginalised and is sinking into a depression. But events in England have brought her niece, Maud (daughter of Edward, Prince of Wales) to Germany to try to entice Vicky to return to England. Edward’s eldest son is notorious for his rather wild lifestyle and for his penchant for venturing into the less salubrious areas of London, and while this, of itself, might be a matter of little real concern, his visits to the Whitechapel area in particular have led to his name being linked to a couple of gruesome murders which have recently taken place there.
Maud wants Vicky to come to London to try to persuade the police that Eddy has nothing to do with the murders; the relationship between the royals and the Metropolitan Police is none too cordial at present, and as the Queen is about to depart for Balmoral, Maud decides that her aunt is the ideal person to try to divert the police’s attention from her brother.
Vicky does not really see what she will be able to do to help the situation, but having no pressing need to stay in Germany, agrees, and brings her eldest daughter, Sophie, to London with her.
The story that follows sees Vicky become involved in the investigation into the infamous Whitechapel murders, in a fairly small way at first, by offering to become the liaison between the royal family and the police and opening up channels for a frank exchange of information between them. In this way, she becomes acquainted with the handsome Detective Inspector Thomas Edmondson, and through her association with him, and her interest in the unfolding case, she begins to emerge from her lethargy and depression and re-discover her zest for life.
At first, Edmondson is suspicious of Vicky’s motives, thinking she is trying to engineer a cover-up in favour of her nephew, but as the case progresses, he realises she is truly keen to help find the killer. He also finds himself fighting an infatuation, something he knows can never amount to anything because of the huge difference in their stations. Yet the attraction between them is undeniable, and they begin to make excuses to spend time in each other’s company, much to the chagrin of Vicky’s daughter who is horrified at the idea of her mothers’ becoming involved with a mere “commoner”.
Overall, I found The Shadow Princess to be an entertaining novel. The author’s descriptions of the seedier parts of London were very evocative, and I thought her take on the true identity of Jack the Ripper and his motives was just as valid as any of the others that have been put forward over the years. The pacing was good, and there were some very tense moments during the hunt for the killer which, while somewhat far-fetched, nonetheless added to the story’s appeal and made for an exciting read.
On the downside, if you’re someone who looks for pinpoint historical accuracy in historical fiction, then this might not be the book for you. The story is well told, but the problem in selecting a real person – and a royal one at that – as your principal character is that there are a limited number of ways the story can progress given that the protagonist’s life is a matter of historical record. The two younger princesses, Sophie and Maud, were only thinly fleshed-out and most of the time seemed only to be present in the story in order to do something really stupid for Vicky to worry about and then set to rights. There were some elements to the novel which required rather a larger suspension of disbelief than I normally like (it’s hard to say too much without spoilers), but I was invested enough to want to know how things would turn out in the end, so I decided to go with the flow and keep reading.
I enjoyed seeing a more mature woman (Vicky is in her late forties) as a romantic heroine. I do think the romance in the novel was rather rushed – Thomas (who is ten years Vicky’s junior) and Vicky are in the grip of a very strong mutual attraction from their first meeting, and very quickly find themselves hard pressed to keep their hands off each other, both mentally and physically. But the huge class difference between them, and their devotion to their own specific duties make a long-term relationship impossible, so the romance in the book is rather bitter-sweet. But it was handled well, and I liked that Ms Hart Perry had both protagonists face up to the obstacles in their path and reach the same conclusions.
Overall, The Shadow Princess works well as a piece of entertainment if you’re prepared to accept a certain degree of creative licence. The author has clearly done her homework (despite the glaring use of a few Americanisms, such as “sidewalk”, and the use of a few anachronistic expressions) and has put her research to good use in her descriptions of late-Victorian London, as well as in her depiction of Jack the Ripper. There is a good balance between the mystery and the romance; and all in all, the book is a quick, engaging read.
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About the Author
Mary Hart Perry lives in Washington DC with her husband and two feline writing partners, Tempest and Miranda. Author of over 40 novels, she’s written under her own and a variety of pen names that include Kathryn Johnson, Kathryn Jensen, KM Kimball and Nicole Davidson. She teaches fiction-writing workshops for the renowned Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. In 2008, she founded Write by You, to coach other writers interested in reaching publication. She has been nominated for the prestigious Agatha Christy Award, and won the Heart of Excellence and Bookseller’s Best Awards (sponsored by the Romance Writers of America) in 2011.