When I was offered this book to read as part of a blog tour, I must confess that the main reason why I said yes was because it was about Charles' oldest, albeit illegitimate, son James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. Monmouth has often been mentioned in the books I have read as a secondary character, so the chance to get to know him a little better was welcome.
The Monmouth that we initially meet is a spoiled young man, favoured by his father, rich, handsome, celebrated soldier but he is also very much his father's son. He was married at a young age to a suitable woman, but he has no issue with whoring or taking mistresses. He drinks too much, has been known to get into violent arguments, at least one of which lead to a fatality and generally is a pretty unsavoury character.
In short, the duke is the kind of man that virtuous young women should avoid, as Lady Henrietta Wentworth is warned when they first cross paths. She is quick to show her disdain to the Duke with the terrible reputation. Fast forward five years and Henrietta is engaged to be married, but the Duke is still intrigued by her beauty (in his eyes at least), her virtue and her character. Henrietta knows that she shouldn't be attracted to him at all, but there is a definite chemistry between them. She also knows that she needs to create an additional level of distance between them so she begs her fiance to bring forward the wedding, but the man instead steps aside, leave the way clear for the duke. Henrietta flees to her home, but when he follows her she knows that she is lost and the two soon become lovers.
If you had of read this part of the story in a romance then you might have thought that they were a cliche bought to life. A good woman who captures the heart of a reprobate libertine and makes him into a faithful and loving man. The added interest to this story is that it is a true story and was considered to be one of the great love stories of the 17th century. This is however not a happily ever after style romance. History tells us a different story.
If it wasn't for the political machinations around them, James and Henrietta could have lived together in seeming happiness for many years but alas it was not to be. Monmouth is exiled to Holland after being involved in a plot to assassinate his uncle, the man that King Charles prefers as his heir. When Charles dies, James comes to the throne and the duke is once again drawn into a conspiracy to make himself the king. After all, there have been rumours that his father had married James' mother (unsubstantiated of course) and even if he was illegitimate, it would be much better to have a young, handsome, successful and most importantly Protestant king of the throne rather than the Catholic King James. Of course, the incumbent disagrees and so the battle lines are drawn.
I am kind of torn about how I felt about this book, or rather, novella. I loved that it was about lesser known figures from history and that the story was based on actual history. I loved that there were bits of poetry that came from the Duke's own diary. At the begining I found the writing a little bit clunky but by the end I was invested in the story. And oh, what an ending. The description of the duke's fate is compelling and gruesome, not one to be reading while you are eating your breakfast! I found myself saying "can't someone get the man a sharper axe" to the book! There were times where I felt that the fact that there was a restricted page count very much counted against the story. I would have liked more exposition about Monmouth's past, rather than just telling us what a terrible man he was. Many of the secondary characters weren't given enough time to develop and as a result were a little one dimensional. There were a couple of other things that through me out of the text. At one point, James starts calling Henrietta Harriet and I found myself wondering who the heck Harriet was. I had to go back a couple of sentences and reread it before the penny dropped.
I do want to touch on something that I have been thinking about for a while now and that is the definition of what a book is as opposed to what a novella is or even a novelette is, which is a term that you see more frequently in speculative fiction. When you are buying books, especially those published through digital first publishers you can see a purchase classified as a novel when there are 120 pages or so. This book comes in at around 190 pages and is classified as a novella. I don't get it, or more precisely it doesn't seem easy to neatly classify something as a novel or novella just looking at page numbers. Anyway, that is a bit irrelevant to my review.
In closing, I would say that I was very excited to read in an interview at one of the other tour stops that Andrea Zuvich is planning to write a novel about Prince Rupert of the Rhine. This is another of the Stuart princes that I find totally fascinating and I will very much be looking forward to reading that when it comes out. Her next book is going to be about Mary and William of Orange, another royal couple who haven't had much attention in historical fiction circles. I love that Zuvich is taking this period of history which is kind of known and fleshing it out a bit more for her readers.
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/hislastmistresstour/
Twitter Hashtag: #HisLastMistressTour
Andrea Zuvich's website - 17th Century Lady
Andrea Zuvich on Twitter
Andrea Zuvich on Facebook
About the book
Set in the tumultuous late 17th Century, His Last Mistress tells the true story of the final years of James Scott, the handsome Duke of Monmouth, and his lover Lady Henrietta Wentworth.
As the illegitimate eldest son of King Charles II, the Duke is a spoiled, lecherous man with both a wife and a mistress. However, this rakish libertine is soon captivated by the innocence of young Lady Henrietta Wentworth, who has been raised to covet her virtue. She is determined to spurn his advances, yet she cannot deny the chemistry between them. Will she succumb? At the same time, the Duke begins to harbour risky political ambitions that may threaten not only his life but also that of those around him.
His Last Mistress is a passionate, sometimes explicit, carefully researched and ultimately moving story of love and loss, set against a backdrop of dangerous political unrest, brutal religious tensions, and the looming question of who will be the next King.