Friday, February 3, 2012

WE TWO by Gillian Gill ✰✰✰✰

She was heir presumptive to the throne of Great Britain, and he was a second son of the German house of Saxe-Coburg.  One had been groomed since birth for the possibility of a throne and the other to be her consort.  Together they shared power, love, family, and built a dynasty that spread to virtually every nation in Europe.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert provide marvelous material and Gillian Gill tells their story with humor and verve threading through her copious research.
This does not try to be a comprehensive biography of Victoria and Albert; although a good deal of material is included about their formative years, it is geared specifically toward enlightening the reader on those things which they need to know to understand the marriage and rule of the royal couple.  The vast majority of the text deals specifically with their time spent governing, their relationship with each other, their parenting of their nine offspring, and the dynastic ambitions that they hoped to realize through those children.  Very little information is given after the death of Albert, either with regards to Victoria or the children.  This is a look at their married years only, with a small amount of ink given to the beginning of the adult years of their two eldest progeny (the years until their father’s death).  Because the couple was related to many of the ruling monarchs of the time and aspired to marry their children into numerous other royal houses, the reader catches glimpses of the politics and alliances of other countries as well as Great Britain.  
Gillian Gill seems to have had a strict goal of staying rigidly on task to write a portrait of a marriage, with a small increment of time given to backstory.  Quite amazingly, the book, including notes, is a scant 440 pages-a feat given the amount of material available on the subjects.  Poor editing is definitely not a fault here!  However, the above mentioned notes cost this book a solid half star in my opinion.  The notes are completely unannotated within the text; if the reader is not in the habit of perusing the book before beginning it they might not even notice they are there.  Unfortunately, my complaint with the notes doesn’t end there.  The notes are very, very extensive-for 387 pages of text there are 51 pages of notes in a font size a scant half that of the text print.  There are at least a couple notes for every page in the text, and because there are no footnote markings the reader is forced to constantly flip from the text to the notes in the back of the book, with only page numbers as a guide.  The information contained in them is well worth the reader’s time, and thus I am very glad that Ms. Gill included it, but a good deal of it could have easily been inserted into the main text, as it is very relevant to the story.  It would have greatly increased the flow of the narrative had some of the flipping been eradicated and had I not had to struggle to read the itty-bitty print.  
I find the layout of the book a little disconcerting, as it does not always flow chronologically, but rather according to events or themes.  However, the information does fit nicely into sections, so I can see why the author (or editor?) chose the format.
The book is very aptly titled, and Gillian Gill achieves her obvious intentions admirably.  Despite my obvious annoyance with the notes, this is a book I very highly recommend.  If you are interested in British royalty, Victoria and Albert specifically, or you simply would like to learn a little bit about this fascinating couple, this is an engagingly written work to pick up.  Many biographies of royals can be dry and twice the length of this one, making We Two a great choice for the casual reader.

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