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Prisoners in the Palace

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London, 1838. Sixteen-year-old Liza's dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in an accident. Penniless, she accepts the position of lady's maid to young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servant's world below-stairs as well as the trickery above. Is it possible that her changing circumstances may offer Liza the chance to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future queen?

Meticulously based on newly discovered information, this riveting novel is as rich in historical detail as Catherine, Called Birdy, and as sizzling with intrigue as The Luxe.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2010

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About the author

Michaela MacColl

13 books205 followers
Prisoners in the Palace is my debut novel. I like to create historical fiction that has a modern appeal to teens and adults.

Regency romance blends enjoyably with historical fiction, with a plucky heroine for each mode. (Kirkus)

This novel is full of historical detail, vivid settings, and richly drawn characters, and themes of friendship and romance give the story teen appeal. (Booklist)

MacColl offers a whip-smart, spunky protagonist and a worthy heroine to root
 for. (Publishers Weekly)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 452 reviews
Profile Image for Tara.
195 reviews3 followers
March 29, 2012
This book was love at first look for me. Would you look at that cover? It is so, so gorgeous. Luckily, this book isn't just a pretty cover-the content is so amazing you'll probably end up like me and staying up until 1:30 AM to finish it!

Prisoners in the Palace is not only the best historical fiction I've read this year-but it's going on my list of top books of the year as well. I was drawn in from the first page, as Liza's in an interesting predicament. One day, her parents are alive and she's planning her entrance to London society. Just a few days later, she's being kicked out of a five star hotel because she has no means to pay the bill as her parents have died in a carriage accident. Her father's solicitor finds her a job working for Princess Victoria. Sounds glamorous, huh?

Not really. The Princess lives in rundown Kensington Palace with her overbearing mother and her mother's awful adviser Sir John. I hated Sir John, and so did Victoria in real life. He was a true villain! Victoria is willful, and even when she's being nice, she's kind of a hoity-toity pain in the butt. She must have told Liza some variation of 'remember your place' at least ten times throughout the book.

There are other wonderful characters to be found here, like Will, the newspaper man that Liza meets when she and the Princess scheme a story to run to bring shame to Sir John, Inside Boy Jones, a boy who lived inside the palace without the knowledge of the residents, and the frumpy, grumpy Baroness, who is more like a mother to the Princess than her actual mother.

I'll admit my knowledge of Queen Victoria was only rudimentary before reading this book, but now I feel the need to know more! I plan on reading some of the books the author suggested and I also watched The Young Victoria, which shows Victoria's life just before she became Queen and in her first years on the throne.

Prisoners in the Palace would definitely appeal to fans of historical fiction, but I think it would also appeal to someone who has never read the genre. It's easy to read, and there is so much gossip, intrigue and romance that you'll be flipping the pages like mad to find out what happens! I will definitely be buying this book for my collection.
Profile Image for Katie.
248 reviews69 followers
October 23, 2010
I usually avoid historical novels like the plague. Seriously. For some reason, I just can’t get into most of them and I tend to get lost very easily. Which is why I dragged my feet when I first opened Prisoners In The Palace. It had to be read out of obligation, but I didn’t expect to like it enough to review it. Surprise!

Prisoners In The Palace is one of the best historical novels I’ve read so far. Michaela MacColl manages to mix the history of Queen Victoria with scandal and romance so gracefully that it’s impossible to get lost. The writing is gorgeous without being ostentatious; simple but powerful. And the characters, though clearly written appropriately to the 1800s, have actual personalities so it won’t just end up being “another book about that dead queen.”

It reads like a modern day book, but has all the grace and style of historical fiction. Liza and Princess Victoria’s shenanigans to tarnish Sir John Conroy’s name were incredibly entertaining. Liza’s relationship with Will, a newspaperman, was incredibly romantic. And the scandalous plot twists of this book were incredibly enthralling. And I never thought I would say this, but I actually loved all the detailed setting and history lessons that are subtly stuffed between the shenanigans, romance and plot twists.

Overall, Prisoners In The Palace has broken my avoidance of historical novels. It’s simply a great read without being over the top or boring. With a plethora of entertaining characters, gossip and scandals, romance, and faint but memorable history, the book is definitely a must for all historical fans and non-fans who wish to be converted! I definitely recommend!
Profile Image for Beth.
783 reviews319 followers
May 4, 2011
The description had me completely hooked at the comparison to Catherine, Called Birdy--one of my favorite books growing up. Couple that with the plot surrounding Queen Victoria's court, really looking forward to this one.

Review time!! Okay, I just loved this book! It was one of those books that I could hardly put down. Elizabeth Hastings, lady turned maid turned spy, is the main character, and a tenacious one at that. She is so genuine, and I felt like I knew her so well. She becomes maid to Princess Victoria, and therefore privy to all the events that shaped Victoria into the queen she is destined to be. I really liked how Liza comes to realize what life is like living as a servant, and how dependent they are on their "superiors" for their livelihood. It seems that most novels are about the lords and ladies, which is quite fun, but this was a refreshing change. There is a lot of danger, intrigue and some romance thrown in as well.

I also liked how MacColl included diary entries and letters between the characters; it was nice to hear them speak from their own voice and was also a great way to show information instead of simply tell it.

At first, I was a little concerned about how Victoria was portrayed. She seems quite spoiled, whiny and immature at first, but, then again, there seemed to be little of her own life that she could control. It seems understandable that she might be forced into whining her way to get a little attention. And I have read that she was sheltered a great deal from anything "unwholesome" throughout her childhood. In the end, she quite transforms into someone ready to take the throne.

The romance of the novel was sweet, and in my opinion, realistic. Liza and her young man grow fond of one another over the course of time, and actually at first do not seem to get along all that well. It wasn't cliche or sappy at all, which is how at lot of young adult novels can be, in my opinion.

I also liked that the ending didn't take a traditional route. I don't want to say too much, but Liza could have picked the easier route, but she doesn't, and I was glad.


Profile Image for Georgie-who-is-Sarah-Drew.
1,134 reviews127 followers
September 26, 2015
The worst I can say of Prisoners in the Palace is that it's worthy. It's not awful, it's well-meant, but it's just a little dull.

In theory, the book had a lot going for it: it's dealing with an interesting historical event (the domestic politics that surrounded Princess Victoria just before the death of William IV), and from a non-standard angle, through the eyes of a servant at Kensington Palace. The author covers in a note at the end some of the period detail she makes use of. (However, I did note that Victoria is made to practise Wagner on the piano, at a time when, I think, Wagner (24 at the time of the story) had written nothing of note, nothing for the piano, and was not known outside Germany.)

The book covers in some detail the manoeuvrings by the real-life Sir John Conroy to control the young Princess, her household and her finances. Widely supposed to be the lover of the Duchess of Kent (Victoria's mother), Sir John was responsible for Victoria's excessively restricted upbringing, and she disliked him intensely as a result. Through the fictional eyes of Liza, we see Sir John's manipulating intrigues intensify as the King's health worsens.

However, I don't know if it's because this is described as a YA book that the prose style comes across as a little pedestrian. Facts and events are briskly laid out. Characterisation is subordinated to the overall arch of what actually happened: Liza is there more to be the on-looker to historical events, than as a personage in her own right. So while this is a good fictionalised recounting of events, and Liza is given a bit of backstory to stop her being a complete cipher, it's not a fully-fledged story.
Profile Image for YA Reads Book Reviews.
673 reviews261 followers
December 23, 2010
To most, Queen Victoria is better known as the Queen of Britain, the woman to start the trend of white wedding dresses, Britain’s longest reigning monarch or simply the serious looking old woman in royal portraits who famously declared, “we are not amused”.

But before any of that, she was simply Princess Victoria. A young girl, ruled over by her over protective mother, living an unhappy existence under the oppressive ‘Kensington System’, waiting in the wings to become Queen.

Michaela MacColl’s Prisoners in the Palace is based on real life events in the three years (which have been condenced into one) leading up to Victoria taking the crown, including excerpts from the young Princess’s real journal, but have been elaborated on to create the story we have today.

Some characters are real, such as the Princess (duh), her mother the Duchess, Sir John, Lehzen and other members of the royal family. Though others are fiction, their origin is from people who lived in the time.

The story is artfully told through letters, journal entries, newspaper articles, but primarily from the perspective of the fictional character Liza. After her parent’s tragic deaths in a carriage accident Liza is left with debts to settle and her dreams of her first season in society are crushed. Instead she takes a job as the Princess’s maid and the extra job of playing spy to the Baroness, who is trying to find out what Sir John and Victoria’s mother are planning.

MacColl paints an amazing picture of Georgian London that is quite true to life. Through Liza when she steps out of the palace we see both the life the rich lived and how unforgiving and cruel the London streets could be to the poor, where the options for survival were limited, particularly for a woman.

For the Princess, Liza’s arrival to the rundown Kensington Palace (which, many years later would be home to Princess Diana) is a dream come true. Sir John’s ‘Kensington System’ requires Victoria to be completely shut off from friends, her finances and the outside world “for her protection”, when in reality it’s a system that intends to make her submissive, stripping her of her free will making her completely dependent and under the influence of Sir John and her mother the Duchess. This power over the Princess would mean that they would be running the show, with Victoria as their puppet.

With the help of Inside Boy Jones (who is secretly living within the palace walls) and Will, a London journalist, Liza uncovers their plans and does everything in her power to break their hold over Victoria.

The characters in this book are rich with personality and the interaction between them was completely engaging. Victoria’s personality was surprising since she is quite childlike and initially very compliant and under the control of her guardians. As the story progresses we see her really take ownership and finds the strength needed to not only rule her life but rule her country.

The blur of fiction with reality is what makes the story completely fascinating. We all know how the story ends, Victoria goes on to become queen, but what’s interesting is how and what happened before hand to make it happen.

Though it’s a historical fiction novel and definitely has the feel and mannerism of the period down pat, the story flows smoothly and is written beautifully so that you don’t get the feeling of being weighed down by the rigidness that some historical novels have. Prisoners in the Palace was impressive, intriguing (as the cover states) and engaging, I definitely recommend it.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
11 reviews
May 23, 2011
Prisoners in the Palace Chronicle Books LLC, 2010, 367 pp.,$16.99
Michaela MacColl ISBN 978-0-8118-7300-0

Queen Victoria is usually remembered as a solemn brunette, always dressed in black. She isn’t often recognized as a young, girlish blonde, fighting her mother for her freedom. In Prisoners in the Palace, her struggle for the throne is told in a well-crafted historical fiction. The main character, Miss Elizabeth Hastings, is fictional. She is an orphan and her parents, Lord and Lady Hastings, left many debts for her to pay. She has no choice but to accept a post as a maid at Kensington Palace. She soon finds herself caught up in a political war between Princess Victoria and her mother, The Duchess of Kent. While Elizabeth avoids the Duchess’s seductive personal secretary, Sir John Conroy, and forms a tentative friendship with the Princess, she struggles to find where her own allegiances lie.

Prisoners in the Palace is by far one of the best historical fiction books I have read. MacColl’s writhing style is slightly Victorian, just enough to suggest the time period without specifically saying so, but it is not overwhelming. I like that she chose to use an non-omniscient third person narrator. It really helped me remember that most of the characters really lived. Some chapters are just diary excerpts or letters. In most places they were a good choice, but there is a section in the middle of the book where I was bored because it was just letters. I can see why MacColl chose to have that certain section written in such a way, but I don’t think it was the best choice. However, the book is just as good as it was before once you get through the section. There is a subtle wittiness in MacColl’s writing. She does an especially fine job with Victoria’s dialogue, painting a picture of a clever, carefree girl.“He’s been bilious since he set foot in England. What a boor!” Victoria shook her head in irritation. “I wouldn’t marry Albert if he was the last prince on earth.”

I would recommend this book to anyone in 7th grade or older, because I’m not sure if anyone younger could appreciate the history properly. I would never let anyone younger than 6th grade read this book, because the characters visit some bad parts of London, and some of the events could be disturbing for 5th graders. There is a death in this book, and I don’t recommend it to those who are easily disturbed by either violence of cold-bloodedness.
Girls would probably enjoy this book more than boys would, but I would recommend it to any gender.
I am sure that all who read this book will agree that it is a perfect tribute to one of England’s greatest queens.

— Becky Heinz

Profile Image for Britt Leigh.
Author 2 books7 followers
July 10, 2010
Now, in my review of Sharon Dogar's Annexed, I picked at the nit of portraying real people in fiction. With the portrayal of Peter van Peels, the main issue is that no surviving family or record can attest to his character. With Queen Victoria, there are numerous records from which to draw upon. Yet I hated the depiction of Victoria. My impressions of her came through history classes (well-liked Queen, Catholic-size family, but didn't seem very good to the Irish) and the movie The Young Victoria (sheltered, but slightly whimsical, definitely likable). Michaela MacColl's characterization ruined that.

In this novel, Victoria is a flighty, silly, childish 16-year-old who gets in cahoots with her new maid Liza, the protagonist. Liza comes to Kensington after her parents have died in a carriage wreck. Liza is fictional and hired mainly to be a spy to benefit Victoria and her governess against Victoria's mother and Sir John Conroy's machinations. MacColl primarily tells the narrative through Liza's voice, but at times throws in random mixed media - newspaper articles, letters, and diary entries, which at times don't feel fully integrated, and when they cause gaps in the story, the gaps don't achieve any dramatic effect. In fact, we lose Liza's worry over Victoria during her illness with typhoid, a time surely to spark a rich fear in the maid whose service as spy.

For the most part, I could sympathize with Liza, who faced a precarious situation and seemed to have the strongest moral compass of all the characters. Her plot lines with Will, the broadsheet publisher, and Inside Boy, a character inspired by true events, were the most compelling (because we don't know how they'll end, unlike with Victoria's story), but could've been fleshed out more richly, especially given that the backmatter MacColl provides was illuminating and interesting.
Profile Image for Jennifer Lafferty.
Author 11 books108 followers
January 22, 2015
This was a fun read. The author did a good job of transporting the reader to London in the 1830s. It was a warmhearted book about friendship, young love the daily of life of royals and the working class alike just before the dawn of the Victorian Age. The book also contains some adventurous escapades, particularly toward the end. I would recommend this novel to a young woman who enjoys 19th century literature.
Profile Image for Kyleigh.
203 reviews
January 10, 2011
I adore historical fiction, mostly because I adore history. Prisoners in the Palace was no exception. When I had the opportunity to read this I almost didn’t sign up for the tour. Just that God awful cover! Ah! It literally hurts my eyes to look at. It’s like someone took a Renaissance styled painting of a woman and put it with pop art colors and Roy Lichtenstein’s bendai dots. Just gah! Assault on the eyes! The artist in me just can’t forgive that horrendous cover art. Thank goodness the story made up for the awful cover.

I’ve never really read anything about Queen Victoria and I really don’t know much about her, so I was intrigued with the story. I learned so much from this book that when my mom was watching Young Queen Victoria, I’d walk in randomly going “Is that Albert? Is that the former Queen? That her old tutor?” Took me about five seconds to identify people and what was happening. I have to say I felt pretty darn cool. In a nerdy kind of way. ^.^ I loved the fact that the story revolved around Victoria as a young girl, yet it doesn’t take the obvious route by telling it through Victoria’s POV. The story is in fact told through the POV of her personal maid, Liza. Liza, a young girl without parents or any inheritance, is in a rough Europe where girls like her only have one way to go. Desperate to pay off her debts she takes the position at Kensington Palace as Victoria’s personal maid. Or rather, she is to spy on the Duchess and the scheming Lord Conroy… Connely?( … it’s been a few weeks here, forgive me) Liza is thrown from the life of high society she is used to, to the world under the stairs of the servants. She learns quickly that the nobility isn’t as fine and grand as they are made out to be, and that their trickery knows no bounds. She is desperate to learn to keep ahead of her employers and be the master of her own fate. She acts the part and does what she is told, but she is really looking out for herself and Victoria.
I really enjoyed Liza’s character. While she starts out a bit of a prude, you can’t really blame her. She is used to the life of a lady, not that of a maid. She quickly adjusts to her new lifestyle and is trying to make the best of it. Though she secretly hopes to earn Victoria’s favor so that one day Victoria might renew her to being a proper lady. She’s clever and headstrong and has a clear head on her shoulders. Though some of her actions were selfish in nature, it only added to her character. She felt remorse on many fronts and it just made her all the more human. She genuinely cared for people and tried her best to do right by them. To help ensure information for Victoria (I swear she’s like a quadruple spy) she enlists the help of Inside Boy and a young newspaper printer Will. If I’m not misinformed I believe that Inside Boy is actually based on an actual person, and I found his character very refreshing and funny. And Will, oh my oh me. I just love the name Will. Probably one of my all time favorite guy names (unless of course you are Will Herondale… why did his name have to be Will?!) He’s a working class man making a living with what he loves, complete with ink stained fingers, messy blonde hair and a rugged and easy going personality. Ahhh, just utter heart! I loved the contrast with Will’s common man mentality and Liza’s more refined manner. Though they are very different from each other, they both share the same values and really connect. The romance that stems from their business meetings was wonderfully done as well. I loved the letters between them. It just increased the growing bond between them. It was all just very sweet and utterly adorable. Plus there is the fact that there was almost a whole year between their first meeting and when their romance actually came to a head. For once a believable time line for two people falling in love! Hallelujah! They met, they got to know each other, they sorted out their true feelings, didn’t rush into anything, and when it was clear they both felt the same for each other then it all came nicely together. Just win! Made me so happy!
The one complaint I have with the book is the time gap when Victoria goes on tour to all those places. It’s the time when she comes down with Typhoid and she almost dies, yet we don’t get any of it. That whole couple month long period is spanned by a couple of letters back and forth between Will and Liza. While I adored those letters, they also kind of drove me nuts. I hated not knowing what the heck was happening! It would have also been nice to have Will and Liza’s relationship fleshed out more, but hey I’ll take what I can get. The ending was full of promises and possibilities so I was happy. ^.^
I really adored this book and look forward to more by the author. Hopefully any future books will have better cover art (psst I’ll sooooo do it lolz) If you are a history lover, or even if you aren’t, you should definitely read this book. I know the cover burns your eyes, but trust me the story is so engrossing that you will barely have to shut it and have to look at it. Absolutely wonderful!
Profile Image for Michelle.
465 reviews33 followers
October 9, 2017
I felt like Will and Liza's relationship developed to fast to be realistic. In the book, the author doesn't elaborate on their meetings much, for a novel of 'intrigue and romance'.
Profile Image for Jennifer Chen.
Author 2 books83 followers
November 18, 2010
Full disclosure: I’m on Chronicle Books Gold Reviewer Panel for their YA books.

Recently I was flying to NYC and read a chunk of PRISONERS IN THE PALACE by Michaela MacColl on my 5-hour flight from California. A few days later, my in-laws were watching the movie, Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt, and I was excited that I knew about young Queen Victoria’s life from the book I was reading. MacColl tells the story of teenage Victoria before she ascends to the throne as Queen as told through the eyes of her maid Liza. Set in London in 1836, Liza becomes an orphan after her parents die in a tragic accident. With her father’s debts mounting, Liza seeks out employment in Kensington Palace and lands a position as Victoria’s maid. The two become friends over the course of the book and Liza meets a cast of characters in the Palace, some who are are aligning themselves for key positions in the court by blackmailing the princess and others who are looking out for Victoria’s well-being.

While I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction, it should be noted that MacColl does an excellent job of incorporating real historical facts into both Liza and Victoria’s coming-of-age story. Excerpts from actual journal entries Victoria wrote (she had written over 100 volumes of journals by the time she died) and Victoria’s mother’s letters from that time period are ways readers get clued into what palace life must have been like for a young woman.

The writing is fun, with mixtures of newspaper clippings, journal entries from Liza and Victoria, and letters, which tell the many different stories from the different characters involved. What should be admired is that MacColl has crafted these two young women — Liza and Princess Victoria — to be strong young women who learn how to be self-sufficient in a time when women were not considered to be worth much.

At times, the writing can be a little obvious instead of original, particularly in more dramatic moments like when Liza discovers what has happened to the previous maid in her exact position. But overall, MacColl translates the royal world into a relatable tale of what every young girl feels like when she’s on the cusp of becoming a woman.

Be sure to read the Author’s Note at the end, which details what characters are true to life and what history MacColl used in the book. After you get to know the cast of characters, it’s quite fascinating to read the real inspirations behind them.
Profile Image for Dodie.
117 reviews5 followers
October 29, 2010
Terrific historical fiction that romps and roots along at a good clip, intertwining stories of loss, aspirations, family and the tumultous royal family in England in 1836. Victoria is still a princess and remote second for assuming the crown, and lacks a friend. Liza, recently orphaned and from an up and coming trade family, needs a job and access to favors. When she is appointed as a lady to Victoria's caretaker, Liza quickly becomes her friend, confidante, and ultimately, her savior. A forbidden romance and in palace spy liven up the plot. Liza's gradual understanding of the plight of the poor and lower class people of London contributes to the social message of the book.
Profile Image for Katharine Ott.
1,764 reviews26 followers
May 13, 2018
"Prisoners in the Palace: How Princess Victoria Became Queen with the Help of Her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel" - written by Michaela MacColl and published in 2010 by Chronicle. The full title tells you that this is a light, fictional account, but it is also well-grounded in historical fact. The future Queen Victoria waits to ascend the throne (for the present King to die) while being treated rather shabbily as a poor relation who some would rather did not exist. A lonely teenager, she is befriended by the aforementioned Maid, Reporter and Scoundrel, and a charming story is built around these relationships. This would be a great addition to the choices for a YA reader interested in English royalty during the Regency period.
Profile Image for Jenna King.
375 reviews
September 24, 2023
The //drama// this book has had 8th grade me absolutely thriving, and it’s still fun
Profile Image for Diane.
577 reviews8 followers
September 25, 2022
YA historical fiction about Princess Victoria in the year leading up to her transition to Queen. The book is well researched but does not get bogged down in historical facts. Highly recommend. Clean read.
Profile Image for Emily.
167 reviews49 followers
September 15, 2011
I devour books about Queen Victoria, her family, her Court, the society, everything. It’s a quirk, I know, and I couldn’t tell you why I’m so intrigued by that awfully stuffy Queen and her enormous family, but I’ll read anything that comes out about her. Which is one of the reasons why I love the mini-explosion of books about Victoria R including the fantastic movie released recently Young Victoria. Not so surprisingly, I loved it.

So I was excited to see this novelization of the year leading up to Victoria’s accession to the throne in 1838. It’s a well-documented time period - not the least through her numerous diaries - and the history of her childhood and teenage years needs little dramatization to be interesting. Michaela MacColl has obviously done a lot of research into this period and what results is a fantastic introduction to seventeen year old Victoria (or Drina as her family called her - smartly MacColl omitted this and thereby avoided possible confusion). This is really the perfect book to recommend to someone who’s seen Young Victoria but maybe doesn’t want to dive into heavy (but excellent) biographies like Hibbert’s Queen Victoria: A Personal History or Kate Williams Becoming Queen Victoria.

Our entry to Princess Victoria’s world is the recently orphaned Liza. Left destitute by her parents’ sudden death, she manages to turn her upper middle class background and knowledge of languages into a position as a lady’s maid to the Princess and her companion/governess Baroness Lehzen. She’s immediately introduced to the tensions and intrigues in Kensington Palace as she’s asked to use her fluency in German to spy upon Sir John Conroy and the Princess’ mother, the Duchess of Kent.

I really love the use of Liza (a completely fictional character) both to give the reader a newcomer’s view to the insanity of Victoria’s life at the time and as a young girl trying to make her way in a world both beyond her ken and so very different from the introduction at Court and rich marriage that her parents expected. The daughter of a merchant, Liza views the world from a transactional basis: if she serves Victoria well, the Princess might reward her when she becomes the Queen, if she’s rewarded, she can retake her position in society and make that rich marriage she hoped for. But as Liza serves and becomes friends with the Princess and also is introduced to the wider world beyond the palace, her focus slowly changes to one encompassing the possibility of true happiness and (oh yes) love. The character development seen here is a lot of fun to watch, and while some of Liza’s escapades seem unlikely, her intelligence and interest in the world is both endearing and makes her a likable heroine.

As much as I enjoyed Liza, I absolutely adored the characterization of the Princess Victoria. She’s so different from the popular culture image of “we are not amused,” black-clad Victoria of her later years, but you can still see how the eighteen year old can develop into that woman. She's not always nice especially to those she considers below her, and one can very clearly see the blinders she wears that often block her empathy or loyalty to any besides herself and her governess. Victoria struggles with her position in her family, resisting her mother and Sir John Conroy’s attempts to control her, and asserting any measure of power she can in the very restrictive and sheltered atmosphere of Kensington Palace. It's a measure of MacColl's skill that in spite of this, Victoria still emerges as an engaging and sympathetic character.

I was really thrilled that MacColl decided to expand her focus include the quickly changing society outside the palace walls. With Liza - and to a lesser extent Victoria - we get to explore London, the continued rise of newspapers and broadsheets and the professional middle classes, the position of women in society, and especially the plight of those lower class women without protection from society, the law or any opportunity to move up in the world. Liza's love interest is a (very charming) printer who helps widen the focus of the story as well as the two rather sheltered girls at the heart of it.

I loved reading Prisoners in the Palace though I almost didn’t pick it up due to the truly unfortunate cover. Don’t be turned off by that though, and definitely check it out if you’re interested in women in history or Victoria herself. It's a fantastic historical read with just enough fiction (what's fiction is clarified in the afterword for those interested) to the historical fact and some truly interesting characters.
Profile Image for Lori.
206 reviews25 followers
December 15, 2010
I was initially intrigued by Prisoners in the Palace due to the connection with Queen Victoria and the pre-Victorian/Victorian era but I wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea as it is listed as a young adult book. I was not only pleasantly surprised but thrilled to discover this book easily qualifies for adult reading as well, particularly those adults who adore historical fiction and/or the Victorian era. Because this book excels at both. And it’s a phenomenal read.

I thought Prisoners in the Palace was an engrossing and entertaining historical fiction read, not falling into the literary pitfall that many historical fiction books can - - being so heavy handed on the history that the story is a bit dry and the reader isn’t allowed to form a real attachment or bond to the characters. Not so in this case.

Ms. MacColl weaves a rich tapestry of colorful detail of the pre-Victorian period, from the somewhat rundown state of Kensington Palace when Princess Victoria was in residence, to the lives of servants below stairs to the unseemly squalor of London backstreets and alleys and the beginnings of the competitive news business. She shows just enough unpleasantness to highlight the differences between the classes without being overbearing or depressive.

I thought Ms. MacColl did a phenomenal job showcasing Victoria in the year before she became queen. At times Victoria was a petulant teenager, a spoiled child, a lonely young lady and a willful heir to the throne. I have read about Victoria once she was queen but she seemed more alive and real to me throughout the pages of Prisoners in the Palace. Ms. MacColl took actual diary entries from Princess Victoria and wrapped her story around them, giving us a wonderful tale in the process.

Surprisingly, Victoria herself wasn’t the central character. That honor belonged to Liza, who found herself employed as a maid in Kensington Palace after her parents were unexpectedly killed shortly after she turned seventeen. Liza was a frustrating character for me - - some of her actions had me literally wringing my hands and wanting to pull my hair. I did remind myself that she was only seventeen and seventeen year olds in 1836 were far less savvy than some seventeen year olds today. Despite my frustration with her slips, I did like Liza. She was spunky without being annoying and she turned out to have quite a backbone on her. She ended up being more like a contemporary heroine, what with controlling her own destiny and being self-sufficient, which may appeal to some young adult audiences.

Newspaperman Will Fulton was a pleasant surprise. While the progression of his friendship with Liza was predictable, I enjoyed reading about his career path especially given as the year the book takes place in was immediately before the birth of the newspaper boom, when paper became more readily available and persons of all classes would read and purchase newspapers.

Of particular interest is the unusual character of Inside Boy - - an orphaned child of the streets who becomes the eyes and ears of Kensington Palace (and an ally of Liza’s and even Victoria’s) all while living in the walls of the Palace. I think I found him so captivating a character because he would have been one of so many “throwaways” back in the pre-Victorian era but he was smart and clever enough (even without schooling) that he was able to fool so many at the Palace and throw the proverbial wool over the eyes of someone like Sir John Conroy. He was also a very distinct, and living, bridge between the life Liza had lived and the one she could possibly face should she lose her position and job at the Palace. The reader doesn’t feel sympathy for Inside Boy, much as you do for the character of Annie Mason, but rather respects his intuitiveness and cunning nature.

Prisoners in the Palace is a great read for young adults who aren’t fond of reading history because it simply doesn’t read like history. For historical fiction buffs, you won’t find Jean Plaidy or Susan Higginbotham here but that’s no condemnation. Ms. MacColl’s writing style is engaging and her story is vividly alive.

On a purely shallow note, the cover art is lovely and I am particularly fond of the back cover, which is a crafty use of newspaper headlines and praise for the book. Bravo!

I would not hesitate to recommend Prisoners in the Palace to both young adult and adult readers; both groups will be satisfied with the magic that comes alive on this book’s pages.

Profile Image for Megan.
85 reviews5 followers
March 21, 2011
I really enjoyed this book. Historical fiction can be tricky. You need to provide enough historically accurate information and detail to be true to the time period, but you also want to be able to add in some creative liberties. It is really a fine balance to get just the right mix while keeping the story engaging and fun to read. I think MacColl has achieved this balance beautifully.

The main details of Victoria’s childhood are more or less accurate. The main character, Liza, is fictional. But MacColl has drawn Liza based on historical realities – specifically the options available to a penniless orphan, regardless of her birth. By showing us Victoria as a child, the future queen of England is transformed into a vulnerable human being, not the untouchable Queen we are more likely to think of her as without the help of this book.

MacColl turns all of her characters into complex people. You could argue that this is because most of them are based off of real people, but sometimes it is harder to make a real person seem real because you have to get behind the person they are on the surface and show who they are underneath the facade. Through doing this, MacColl also exposes many of the harsh realities of life in the 1830s.

I would say that the one thing you often see in historical novels that was missing from this one was a lot of description about the clothing and architecture. But in truth, I don’t think the book lost anything by having a limited amount of these elements. Sometimes I find that historical novels tend to go into too much detail about clothing and architecture and furnishings instead of focusing on the story. MacColl makes you aware of the time period through the social classes, speech, and plot elements, not through pages and pages of description, and I found this refreshing.

The final thing this book does that I love is that it has made me want to learn more about Queen Victoria. I think that is a sign of a successful historical novel – when you are dying to learn more. If you know nothing about Victoria, know tons about her but want to know more, love historical fiction, want to learn about history without feeling like you are learning, or just looking for a good read, then I recommend giving this book a shot. It is a fast, exciting read and truly is a novel of intrigue and romance.
Profile Image for Renee.
793 reviews
November 16, 2010
Not only are the cover and dust jacket of this book gorgeous but the words on the pages between create a story that is both beautiful and intriguing. Michaela MacColl has spun a tale that is both informative and romantic. For me the best books are those that combine true history with fictional but completely believable characters, romance and events and Prisoners in the Palace does that. From the somewhat mouse-like character, "Inside Boy" to the death of a former servant, to the character of the princess herself no detail is spared.

I absolutely fell in love with the film The Young Victoria earlier this year which chronicled the early life of Her Royal Highness Queen Victoria and ever since I can't seem to get enough of the complexities as well as the luxuries that is/was life as a royal. The picture of her teen years that is painted in this book is more vivid and descriptive than film. By inserting tidbits from Victoria's actual journals Ms. MacColl has given a glimpse of the transitions that a young girl had to make in order to become a queen whom all the world could take seriously.

Liza, who is also a central character had to learn what it meant to serve Queen and country and her life is not without drama. The manipulation of power is not just a tool of the wealthy but the lower classes as well who were clawing their way to the top of the household staff ladder at Kensington Palace. With the help of Will Fulton, an up-and-coming broadsheet publisher (similar to today's tabloid) Liza and Victoria get into some trouble for their impulsiveness which young people often do. It's fun to imagine that the stuffy old Queen of England actually may have done this and acted like a real teenager who was not so very different from anyone else after all.

I couldn't put this book down. I recommend it for anyone who likes historical fiction with a lot of drama and a little romance thrown in the mix. Although this is geared towards the teenage/young adult reader I definitely recommend it for older folks as well. An awesome debut novel, I can't wait to read what Michaela MacColl pens next!

*I received my complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for posting my honest review.*
Profile Image for Pamela Kramer.
420 reviews5 followers
November 2, 2010
Prisoners in the Palace: How Princess Victoria became Queen with the Help of Her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel by Michaela MacColl brings to life a part of history that is not much covered in Young Adult literature. We all know about the Victorian era, but how much do any of us know about Queen Victoria when she was still Princess Victoria?

It's a sure bet that what is revealed in this well-written, well-documented book, which is fiction based on real history, will shock many readers. The most famous part of the Queen Victoria legend is her famous love affair with her Prince Albert. Most do not know that she lost her father at eight months of age, lived with a controlling mother, and was practically a prisoner in Kensington Palace (hence the title).

With the creation of her fictional heroine, Elizabeth Hastings, Ms. MacColl allows us a glimpse into the royal upbringing. The author did extensive research to create a young VIctoria who is both sympathetic and queenly. And the main character, Liza, is extremely likable.

Liza (as Elizabeth is known), loses her parents and her very comfortable way of life suddenly. She finds herself without family and without any relatives she can turn to. When she is offered a chance to work at Kensington Palace for the future Queen of Great Britain, she accepts even though the job is as a lady's maid. The position is quite a come-down for one whose parents had been accepted into the gentry.

Liza is also unhappy to learn that the reason she was given the position by the Princess's governess was because she spoke German as well as English and thus would be able to spy on Victoria's German mother. How she survives, what she learns, and how she stays true to herself is what make the book a difficult one to put down.

Historical fiction is fun, and eminently more interesting when the story is exciting, the era is unknown, and the writing is good. Prisoners in the Palace has all that and more.

It's a novel of intrigue and romance, as the book states clearly on the cover (at least of the advance review copy). It's also a book that will be shared by historical fiction readers as well as those who just enjoy Young Adult literature. Make it one of your top 10 books to read before the end of the year.
Profile Image for Cindy Hudson.
Author 14 books23 followers
November 10, 2010
Before Victoria became Queen of England, she was merely Princess Victoria, controlled by her mother, the king’s sister-in-law, and a powerful advisor, Sir John Conroy. Victoria lived in near isolation in Kensington Palace, unaware of much news of the times.

Into this world steps the fictional character of Liza, newly hired as a maid to Victoria after her well-to-do parents died and left her penniless. Previously Liza had maids of her own, now she must adjust to being one. She also takes it upon herself to befriend the princess and spy for her, ferreting out the intrigues going on among Victoria’s family and advisors.

Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl is rich, historical fiction. The story shows another side of Victoria, that of a vulnerable girl whose future was anything but certain. If not for her own strength of character she could have become a puppet ruler, controlled by her mother and Sir Conroy. Historical entries from Victoria’s diaries are interspersed throughout to reflect her state of mind following well-documented events.

Liza is a strong character and ally for Victoria. Through her eyes we see the London that existed outside of palace life. Life was precarious for many, especially women and children, who had few resources or avenues to improve their lives.

MacColl flawlessly weaves historical details into the story of these two young girls, Victoria and Liza. I don’t usually think of historical fiction novels as page-turners, but I had a hard time putting Prisoners in the Palace down once I started reading it. One chapter flows into the next smoothly, and even though readers know that eventually Victoria becomes queen, the story of how she gets there is anything but predictable.

Mother-daughter book clubs can talk about Victoria’s difficult relationship with her mother, living conditions for women and children of the times, the rise of broadsheets to communicate news and how that compares to today’s media and more. It’s classified as young adult, but even 12 year olds who are interested in historical fiction should be happy reading it. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Greta.
96 reviews1 follower
December 13, 2013
Michaela MacColl's meticulous historical research brings to life this story of the tumultuous time leading up to Victoria's accession to the throne. We see the proceedings through the eyes of Elizabeth - Liza - Hastings, a rich debutante who finds herself abruptly orphaned and impoverished and takes up a job as Princess (not yet Queen) Victoria's personal maid.
One of the most interesting parts of the book is the political intrigue happening in the dilapidated and understaffed Kensington Palace. Victoria's mother (Duchess of Kent) and her personal secretary, Sir John Conroy, strive to control the Crown Princess through a series of subtle measures they called the Kensington System. Victoria is kept in near isolation, her fiances and affairs out of her hands, and forbidden to walk down stairs without someone holding her hand. Every reward comes with a string attached, and each deprivation is "for her own good." Years of this has taught the young princess political maneuvering better than any school, as she fights for even the barest independence.
Authentic newspaper clippings, letters, and excerpts from Victoria's journal (which was not allowed to be written in ink until her mother had looked over it) are interspersed in the text, and MacColl integrates outside events seamlessly into the narrative.
Liza and Victoria are both girls who have been tossed around by fate and British society and struggle to hold their own against it. But they are not flawless heroines - Liza still struggles with her grief and her fall in social status, while the isolated Victoria is so out of the touch with the real world that she is unaware of the full extent of her power, and often misuses what she is aware of. But they are realistic and you can feel the frustration pouring out of them - though the handling of the ending may verge on trite occasionally, you'll cheer at their triumph anyway.
Also of note is the subplot regarding the plight of working (class) girls at that time, handled very well by MacColl.
Profile Image for Dorothy.
10 reviews18 followers
March 7, 2019
Oh my! This book is LIT! one of the best regency books I've read. I haven't read regency books for like, ages, and this one just woke me up from hibernation. I admit, I avoid reading historical fiction because I feel like this genre would bore me to pieces but because of this book, I might consider reading historical fiction my utmost priority from this time henceforth. haha.

This is a page turner. Very hard to put down. Was able to read it in 24 hours (of course, I have work, and I've to sleep).

Before I read this book, I have very little idea about Queen Victoria of Great Britain. But after I've finished reading this, I've felt like I knew very well the famous queen and her entire household.

The plot is very intriguing, with just the right amount of romance (modest romance). I was over the edge of my seat when I reached the climax of the story. And the ending, (the ending?) was PERFECT, absolutely PERFECT!

Grabeeeee... I so love this book! :)
Profile Image for Hderaps.
16 reviews5 followers
January 17, 2011
As is sometimes the case, actual history can contain more in the way of suspense, romance, unbelievable circumstances than can fiction. For me, this was the case with Prisoners of the Palace. I actually know quite a bit about the history behind this historical fiction novel, but was kept enraptured and flipping pages to find out what happened. It was just so riveting and engrossing that I had to see how it all came together (even though I knew how it would all come together)!

Prisoners of the Palace is the story of how the teenaged Princess Victoria came to be the longest ruling queen of Great Britain. Queen Victoria's story has always intrigued me, but I have not felt so connected to her as I do after reading this book. Perhaps this is a result of the style of this novel and the focus on a wide variety of characters, most of whom are average citizens of this time period (the 1830's). In fact, the main character is not Victoria herself, but her personal maid, Eliza.

Eliza has a sad story that seems all too common for the time period. She was fairly well-to-do until her parents died, leaving her in huge debt. As a woman, she was trained in lots of areas that were not at all practical. By the time that the job at Kensington Palace appears, Eliza is completely destitute. After begging for the position, she soon finds out that life for the royalty is not as blissful and uncomplicated as she had previously thought.

And there is scandal. And suspense. And violence. And romance. Lots of all of it.

But best of all, I love reading and learning about history and realizing that not all that much has changed. The public is still fascinated but critical and judgmental of those with power and prestige, and those with power and prestige are often unaware (or uncaring) of the sufferings of every day people. And sometimes, there are people who are lucky enough to be a part of both worlds, like Eliza. And it's fun when they gossip about the inner workings of royalty!
Profile Image for Jeanna.
315 reviews25 followers
January 19, 2011
What an intriguing cover, having the title on its spine and back, but not the front is surely something I haven't seen done before.
After Elizabeth Hastings' parents are killed in a tragic accident, Liza is left horribly in debt. To remedy her situation- she turns to the palace doors in hopes of finding a job. Liza is then brought into the scene among royalty and becomes Princess Victoria's maid. She discovers that royalty is not at all what is seems. Sir Conroy is looking to steal the throne with Victoria's mother, the Duchess, Even the maids and the other servants thrive in their own rank. But Princess Victoria just wants to be loved.
I loved this book. I'm always a sucker for historical romances and this one did not disappoint. I was transported back into the 1800s where all men were gentlemen and if they weren't gentlemen- they were considered something of a theif like Inside Boy. Inside Boy was my favorite character. His speech, full of flash patter, was humorous at times and I found myself laughing along with the novel. Liza's character was very strong and wonderfully developed. I always love strong characters and not all authors can create such powerful characters. MacColl nailed her characters- to the point that they were almost as real as you and me. Will's character was fantastic. He was such a doll and too modest about himself. He was considered a businessman, but he was a total gentleman. He was adorable. Not to mention, Liza and Will's reltionship was very cute.
The ending kept me on my toes.
It was so difficult to put the book down when I had to go to work.
I recommend this book to all.
Profile Image for Karen.
56 reviews1 follower
July 29, 2011
When I first saw this book, the cover caught my eye ("Oooh, shiny") and I thought it was a clever design. I also love YA historical novels, so I took it home with me.

This is about a fictional girl named Liza who came from a well-to-do family but was recently orphaned. And so, to make a living, she was hired as a personal maid to Princess Victoria and the Baroness Lehzen at Kensington Palace in the year before Victoria became queen.

Here's why the 2 stars:

I did learn some new things in this novel, mostly about broadsheet and newspaper publishing. But...

I did not like how the author portrayed Victoria as silly, small-minded and selfish, nor did I like her prince Albert portrayal as being boring and prudish. I think theirs is a wonderful love story, but you don't sense that at all in this novel.

I know this author did a lot of research while writing this book (she said so in her author's note), but this part really bugged me. Victoria was practicing a Wagner piece on the piano, as required by the horrible Sir John Conroy who oversaw her education. Victoria makes it clear that she really doesn't "like this piece," but is reminded that Sir John "insists" that she learns the "classics." According to this novel, if the year is 1836, that makes Wagner 23 years old - but when he was 23 years old, he was virtually an unknown composer at the time. If the author had Victoria playing something else, like Bach or Handel, then the term "classics" would have made sense. I know I'm making a mountain out of a molehill here, but I'm a music teacher and those facts are important to me as a reader.

Overall, it was okay. It was entertaining, but just... okay.

Profile Image for Julie.
166 reviews9 followers
November 1, 2010
I enjoy historical fiction and this book is a lovely addition to the this genre as well as that of young adult reading. It is listed as an appropriate book for ages 12 and up. I think young readers and adults alike will find this a very satisfying look into Queen Victoria's young life.

Liza is mercilessly thrust into the life of a servant after being catered to and pampered her entire existence. She is 16 years old and doesn't know how to undress herself! When she lucks into a position as a maid to Princess Victoria at the run-down Kensington Palace, she must learn to do everything for her lady that she was used to having done for herself.

There are several colorful characters that are introduced in the telling of the tale. Several are people that you instinctively dislike such as Victoria's mother, the Duchess and her ally, Sir John. The author writes their personalities in such a way that you can't help but root against them in favor of Liza and the Princess. In contrast, Will and Inside Boy are two of the supporting cast that you immediately like.

I always enjoy when an author incorporates real people and real events into a fictional story. It gives these historical figures a much more human appeal and a reality to them. Ms. MacColl wove fiction and fact into a lovely tale of two young ladies in different circumstances who are thrown together to make their way as they can.

I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading more from this debut author.

Profile Image for kiwi .
380 reviews
May 10, 2013
I really liked this book.

Yes! I know! Surprise surprise! But really, it was good. I'm a moderate fan of historical fiction, but lately I've encountered some that are....well...a little too much fiction and not enough historical. Going into this, I sort of had that feeling towards this book. The cover especially made it seemed a bit like a chic-flic in book form. Boy was I wrong! Liza, though hardly a bad-a**, is though considering the time period and everything she has to deal with. She's brave and even though she's not street smart, she's clever and is eager to learn. I enjoyed this book to maybe a three star rating...until I read the very end. And I don't mean the end of the book, I mean the Afterwards which clarified quite a bit.

Ms. MacColl did her homework. Her story was INCREDIBLY accurate and actually included real letters and journal entries left by Victoria. And yes, (though I thought he was a fictional character for the longest time...) Sir John WAS real and he really WAS that evil. Wow. A real life villain! Good for MacColl for taking advantage of that! I think I've learned more real historical fact in this novel than my US history "textbook".

So....is there a bit of a romance going on? Yes. Is there a YA love triangle....?


Thank you, Ms. MacColl....thank you! You have made a teenaged girl VERY happy.
Profile Image for ✨Sofia ✨.
222 reviews202 followers
June 24, 2015
This book was easily a pleasant surprise. I had bought this book more than a year ago for its cover and because it was on sale, not really expecting much of a fantastic story. Perhaps it was because I also had heard nothing about it.

When I picked this book a few days ago, I was excited to learn that this was historical fiction about Queen Victoria before she came to rule. It follows the story of Elizabeth Hastings who hoped to became a proper lady introduced to society and marry a noble man. However, her dreams were dashed when her parents plunged to their death and left Liza an orphan. Now she has no choice but to earn her keep and become maid to Princess Victoria. I loved reading about the drama in court and how Sir John was manipulating the Duchess to convince Princess Victoria so extend the Duchess' regency. I have watched the movie "Young Victoria" and was also fascinated by the story of the Queen before she claimed the throne. It also didn't hurt that Liza had a lovely man to court her to make the story even more interesting. This book has motivated me to read more historical fiction and it is a genre I definitely look forward to reading more of in the future.
Profile Image for The Library Lady.
3,651 reviews538 followers
January 10, 2011
I recently read Becoming Victoria, an adult biography which focuses on the same period of Victoria's life as this book is set, so that was fresh in my mind when I was reading this. And McColl's story here does what good YA historical fiction can do--it brings that time to life, and it does so with a faithful eye to the details and the truth.

Someone complained because Victoria here is not how she was portrayed in "Young Victoria", a recent film. My dear, that was a MOVIE, where the character can't be subtle, where you have to pander to the audience rather than sticking to the facts.

McColl doesn't pander to her readers. Victoria is utterly true to who she was, as revealed from a lifetime of letters and diaries. And while Liza's story requires a fair bit of suspension of disbelief, it's wonderfully done and allows readers to get to know the tiny young woman who would go on to reign for 60+ years and become known as "the Grandmama of Europe".
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