I was lucky enough to receive an eARC of this book from the publishers, via NetGalley, but all opinions, as always, remain my own.
**This is a SPOILER FREE review**
The Prince of Mirrors is an historical fiction novel about Prince Albert Victor, or Eddy as he is more commonly known, the eldest grandson on Queen Victoria, and his relationship with his Cambridge tutor, a boy of a similar age called Jem Stephens.
I knew absolutely nothing of Prince Eddy, so Clark had a blank canvas on which he could paint his portrayal of this historical figure. I started to read quite a bit of historical fiction a while back, but I drifted into other genre’s and it’s been a good while since I’ve read any, which made this a real breath of fresh air, however, it’s not a perfect book.
Historical fiction, especially that which deals with real figures, I imagine, is a challenging thing to write. There’s a balance to be maintained between giving the reader a good story, and staying faithful to historical fact. One of the ways in which Clark seems to navigate this is to date each chapter, which is never a good thing for me, as a reader, because I am terrible at keeping track of the years. It also, in my opinion, meant that the story leant more toward an account of a life, that a narrative, and the narrative voice a little dry.
Still, there are a small number of scenes that really stuck out to me.
There is a a scene while the two are at Cambridge together, which we experience with them, and then is reaccounted “years” later. The scene itself was sweet enough, showing, rather than telling us about the relationship between the two characters. However I did get the feeling that, through the repetition, the author wanted me to feel more than I actually did. It was as though he was saying, “look, look here, remember this scene, remember how touching and important it was.” While this clearly had a certain emphasis, the whole book felt as though Clark wanted us to feel a certain way, feel a sort of sympathy, which, of course, you empathise with these characters, but it isn’t get me to a point where I felt strong emotion.
The ending itself, which if you know your history you’ll know how the story must end (still, no spoilers if you are as ignorant as I was), still lacked the kind of feeling that would have knocked me for six. The final few paragraphs are delivered with a sort of detachment that would serve you well if you were feeling the sort of emotion that Clark expected, or at least wanted you to feel, but ended up coming off as ruched, as though he had written a long essay and had to tack on a conclusion. The potential was there but all in all the writing style was just far too clinical for me.
Another thing which felt a little messy was the narrative focus. It was as though Clark couldn’t decide wether to focus on Eddy or Jem, and so ended up with neither. While it’s true the vast majority was Eddy, but it would switch almost without rhyme or reason to his tutor. This could have been easily resolved with one last edit, and a more linear narrative, rather than having Jem’s childhood dumped on the reader chapters from the end. if we had seen these two men grow up side by side, it would have been a lot better to draw comparisons between the two, as it feels Clark is asking us to.
As you can see, I have a lot to say in regards to the negative aspects of this book, but I did really enjoy it, I would;t have given it four stars if I hadn’t. I just wanted more, I wanted Clark to make me feel more, make me want things for Jem and Eddy, and, unfortunately I just couldn’t. However you could tell that the author really cared for them, and was careful with them. There was a lot of character development, which, as a character driven book, worked very well. Unfortunately I just didn’t connect with Eddy and Jem on a personal level.
The best aspect of this book was the pacing, because, while there is a lack of physical action in the way you might expect, it always feels as though the plot is moving forward. It’s obviously that the focus is on Eddy and Jem as characters, and their development both together, and as individuals, is what kept me wanting to read more. I am, and have always been a fan of character driven novels, and that is exactly what this is; an excellent character study over a period of time.
It’s clear that while the writing style was not for me, and another edit may have been beneficial, I enjoyed The Prince of Mirrors, and the opportunity to see LGBTQ+ rep in a sub-genre of fiction. However I believe this is a debut author, in which case I want to read more from him, I’m looking forward to what he brings in the future, and in the meantime I might just give this another read.
The Prince of Mirrors is to be released on June 7th, and I think you should give it a try, and let me know what you think.
Do you think that you’d pick this book up? What your favourite historical fiction novel? What’s your favourite novel by a debut author?
Thanks for reading