Review: Queen of Bedlam by Laura Purcell

Book cover of Queen of Bedlam by Laura Purcell

I’ve started using the library near work recently. Firstly because it gets me away from my damn desk instead of actually taking the final step and making a nest out of my paperwork, but secondly because the fifteen minute walk each way won’t exactly hurt either. The upshot, book-wise, is that I’ve been requesting books like mad and I’ve been able to try out all those books that were on my wishlist but I wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge and purchase. Enter Queen of Bedlam.

Plot summary: London 1788. The calm
order of Queen Charlotte’s court is shattered by screams. The King of
England is going mad. Left alone with thirteen children and with the
country at war, Charlotte has to fight to hold her husband’s throne. It
is a time of unrest and revolutions but most of all Charlotte fears the
King himself, someone she can no longer love or trust. She has lost her
marriage to madness and there is nothing she can do except continue to
do her royal duty.

Her six daughters are desperate to escape
their palace asylum. Their only chance lies in a good marriage, but no
prince wants the daughter of a madman. They are forced to take love
wherever they can find it, with devastating consequences.

The moving true story of George III’s madness and the women whose lives it destroyed.

I know relatively little about George III and Queen Charlotte, other than he was the father of Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent but went slowly mad (which was the reason for the Regency in the first place). Medical historians now think he was suffering from porphyria, which is a genetic blood disorder that can cause psychiatric disturbance. It’s actually really interesting, which is why I wanted to read Queen of Bedlam in the first place.

Unfortunately the book isn’t like that at all. Perhaps the clue is in the title – Queen of Bedlam, not Mad King of England. It’s about Queen Charlotte and the eldest of their daughters, Princess Royal, and it’s so… girly.

It opens right as King George starts to lose his grip on reality. On one hand, we’re straight into the action. On the other, we have no basis for comparison. We don’t know if Charlotte and George are actually in love, what he used to be like, how his relationships stand… as a result, I just didn’t care.  

So Charlotte is stomping around and Princess Royal (why does the narrative refer to her as that? She had a name) is just whining constantly about how she doesn’t get to go anywhere. They’re not even unlikeable. To be unlikeable you have to have some form of substance.

Thing is, I like historical fiction to give me some background information about the characters and the period, so I can feel like I’m learning as I read. Queen of Bedlam could be any badly written book about any time period. It’s just pages and pages of whiny dialogue and thought monologues, with very little actual prose. 

I admit I didn’t finish this. I could have, in fairness. It wasn’t so bad that I simply wasn’t able to finish it, but then I can’t think of a single pleasant thing to say about it, other than the subject matter and the author can hardly get credit for historical fact, even if she doesn’t choose to reference it in her work. I got about half way through and then gave up. No regrets.

(You know you spend too much time at work when you accidentally end a blog post with ‘Regards’ and start looking for your e-signature…)

How do you like your historical fiction? Moving and light, or factual and informative?  


  1. I've been doing exactly the same kind of thing with our local library recently too. I've requested tons of books that I've been curious about but that I haven't been 100% sure about spending my actual money on. The Madman's Daughter was a great gamble but I'm not quite as sure about If on a Winter's Night a Traveller. I'm enjoying it but I'm just not sure I have a clue what's going on!

    This one sounds really good in the description – how annoying that it turned out to be rubbish. Describing someone as the Princess Royal is annoying me just reading about it in your review, never mind having to endure it in a whole bloody book. I might actually have picked this up if I'd seen it in the library too so good heads-upping.

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