Author: Marci Jefferson
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC courtesy of St. Martin's Press
Add to: Goodreads
Synopsis: Impoverished and exiled to the French countryside after the overthrow of the English Crown, Frances Stuart survives merely by her blood-relation to the Stuart Royals. But in 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and springs to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches King Louis XIV’s eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty, she has Stuart secrets to keep and people to protect. The king turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He banishes her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and stop a war.
Armed in pearls and silk, Frances maneuvers through the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him. He believes her love can make him an honest man and even chooses Frances to pose as Britannia for England’s coins. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. Until she is forced to choose between love or war.
On the eve of England’s Glorious Revolution, James II forces Frances to decide whether to remain loyal to her Stuart heritage or, like England, make her stand for Liberty. Her portrait as Britannia is minted on every copper coin. There she remains for generations, an enduring symbol of Britain’s independent spirit and her own struggle for freedom.
If one word could be used to describe Marci Jefferson Girl on the Golden Coin, it would be: captivating. It’s beautiful, lush, and breathtaking. I didn’t want it to end!
Not many people may know the story of Frances Stuart, but no doubt you’ve seen the image of Britannia on British currency. Dressed in roman robes, she’s seated holding a trident while wearing a Corinthian helmet and beside her is a shield depicting the unification of Scotland and England. In 1672, Frances served as the model for Britannia and since then has been featured on medals and coins. She’s since been retired, but in 2006 appeared on the fifty pence. Right in front of me as I write this review is that fifty pence though I’m lucky to have several 19th century British coins that feature Britannia. Since reading Girl on the Golden Coin, I find myself looking at them and am in awe of the woman who ultimately said no to one of world’s most powerful men.
As far as characterization, we have good character development. Our primary character is Frances Stuart who has been living in France with her mother and siblings. There she is attached to the royal household when Henrietta Maria of France’s daughter gets married to King Louis XIV’s brother, Phillipe. I won’t go into detail regarding characters since we have a wide array of secondary characters that a play an important and yet at times a minor role. Don’t let this put you off from reading since Jefferson gives us a handy guide at the beginning of the book which is detailed enough that you get an idea of who’s who. The characters of most interest and the ones that play a vital role besides Frances are Henrietta Maria of France, Louis XIV, Charles II, the Duke of Buckingham, Lady Castlemaine, and the Duke of Richmond and Lennox.
Narration is first person via Frances and it makes sense since this is about her. Frances is a trustworthy narrator though at the beginning I doubted I could trust her because I wasn’t sure how open she would be. As her journey progresses, she becomes quite comfortable in her storytelling. Jefferson could have easily made this narrative a bit jaded with an older Frances looking back, but instead we get an innocent girl who is forced to play a game she had no interest in. We see her stumble, go with the flow and ultimately hold her own, but I really liked that growth progression we see at the start of narrative so by the time we get to the end, we get the Frances from the beginning. The language is a bit too modern, but it doesn’t distract the reader from enjoying this.
I know people tend to shy away from historical fiction because they worry they will be inundated with nothing but historical facts. While it’s evident Jefferson did extensive research for Girl on the Golden Coin, she doesn’t overwhelm the reader with history. She subtly interweaves historical fact with fiction and it’s easy to read and enjoy. At no point does the reader feel like they are sitting in a history course or will be quizzed at the end. If I have one slight complaint, it’s the reference to Frances not wanting to be Anne Boleyn. As a historian, it felt a bit too modern and while I’m not saying people in the 17th century weren’t aware of Anne Boleyn and her influence, the way Anne Boleyn is spoken of, it’s more towards a modern point of view.
Ultimately, what I adored about Jefferson’s Girl on the Golden Coin is how innocent and real it felt. It’s rare for an author to portray a king as a man and not someone with an abundance of power who can’t take no for an answer. Jefferson gives us a king who is human and we can make a connection with him. It’s easy to develop a crush on him and find him sexy as he comes alive on page and you can’t help but feel a bit jealous of Frances. And yet, when the Duke of Richmond and Lennox makes an appearance, you’re comfortable with him and want him and Frances to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. Regardless of which two men you will root for, they are very much alive as you read and it is a testimony to Jefferson’s talent.
I’m not going to lie and will admit how disappointed I felt when I read the last page. Jefferson has written a beautiful novel that will leave you thinking about the characters long after you’ve read the final page.
If you’re a fan of historical fiction I highly recommend Marci Jefferson’s Girl on the Golden Coin. Just be aware: I’m not responsible if you develop a crush on Charles II.