Eliza dreams of being a playwright for the king’s theater, where she will be admired for her witty turns of phrase rather than her father’s wealth. Beth is beautiful as the day but poor as a church mouse, so she must marry well, despite her love for her childhood sweetheart. Zabby comes to England to further her scientific studies—and ends up saving the life of King Charles II. Soon her friendship with him becomes a dangerous, impossible obsession. Though she knows she should stay away from the young, handsome king, Charles has a new bride, Queen Catherine, and a queen needs ladies in waiting. And so Zabby, Beth, and Eliza, three Elizabeths from very different walks of life, find themselves at the center of the most scandal-filled court that England has ever seen.
Ladies in Waiting
Of course, there is a downside to reading historical fiction that involves real historical figures. At least, I feel there is. Others might feel differently. Since Charles II and Catherine, his wife/her queenliness, were real people, I can look up pictures of them. This means that I can read about what a hottie Charles II was and how all of the ladies wanted to go to there, and then I can Google him and find this:
Just take a moment to enjoy that hotness. Yeah. I literally laughed for like five minutes when I found out what he actually looks like. Now, I'm sure he could get all the ladies he wants, because it's good to be the king, but I'm not buying him as Mr. Sexypants/robe. Sorry.
Sadly, Catherine was not quite so amusing. In fact, viewing her pictures was rather enlightening. The book mentions her change in style from Portuguese gowns to English. Her Portuguese gowns were dark and somber, very much not popular with the English, who liked ladies to put their business on display. Now I know what those gowns look like. I can also see why they would not have been popular. Catherine as a character is rather hard to relate to and unsympathetic. She wants love and she wants power, but she doesn't really do anything.
The story focuses, though, on three of Catherine's ladies in waiting, all named Elizabeth. They become friends and negotiate the scandals of the court together. And, OH MY but there are a LOT of scandals. Women don't come off especially well in this novel; the one comfort is that men come off way worse. None of them are especially likable, but they are pretty entertaining.
Elizabeth #1, Eliza, would have been my favorite; indeed, I liked her immediately upon her introduction in the first page of the book. Unfortunately, she was a bit too into her theater. Her lack of interest in men and marriage I applaud, but she is so cavalier with her friends. Despite the fact that her father is trying to sell her off in marriage to someone she doesn't like, she constantly encourages Beth to accept her awful mother's marriage plans for her. Hypocrisy looks good on no one.
Elizabeth #2, Beth, is the nicest of the three. She truly loves others, and is the only one who wants a family. Unfortunately, she has a completely disgusting mother (she has super serious syphilis, which is way nastier than I knew) who wants to sell her off to someone who is not her love (who is not so great either). The guy her mom (and Eliza) want her to marry is totally creepy as all get out. I sort of feel like there may have been more scenes with him in an earlier version, because at just one point, we get some insight into his thoughts, which is weird. Beth I didn't much care for because she's too gullible and too crazy.
Pictured Above: Beth's mother
Image source: http://spiritedaway.wikia.com/wiki/Yubaba
Elizabeth #3, Zabby, also initially seemed like she was going to be a great character. When you first meet her, she doesn't know how to wear a corset, is mistaken for a prostitute, and totally still maintains her attitude. Then she saves the King from the plague. Awesome. Then she falls in love with the King and spends the whole book mooning over him, alternately fantasizing about Catherine's death and trying to help Catherine out of guilt. That whole thing makes me so mad, especially since the King is as I described him above. Not only that, but she totally ruined the happiness of one of her friends out of her desire to make the King like her more. By the end of the book, I was ready to give Zabby the oar to her douchecanoe, so that she can head off to her home at asshole island.
All of that said, Ladies in Waiting is an entertaining read. If you like scandals, crossdressing (even if some of the things that happen in this plot line are not believable) and drama, sit back and enjoy. This is very much like an episode of The Tudors, only the sex happens offstage (mostly), the main characters are actually young, and instead of Henry VIII you have Charles II.