Shall We Dance?
This novel has at its center a very interesting and little mentioned event in English Regency Romanceland. King George III is dead and Prinny has declared a year of mourning at the end of which he will be crowned King George IV. He plans to use that year to obtain a divorce from his despised wife, Princess Caroline, to prevent her being crowned Queen. George and Caroline have hated each other almost from the beginning of their marriage and each has flaunted their various extra-marital affairs. The Tories have introduced a Bill of Pains and Penalties into Parliament. The Whigs, who back Princess Caroline, are fighting it, and all of England is choosing sides, riveted by the spectacle.
Perry Shepherd, erstwhile spy in the late war, now a fashionable fribble, is recruited by his uncle, a retired Minister of the Admiralty, to spy upon Princess Caroline in the king’s cause. Uncle Willard wants Perry to use his much vaunted good looks and charm to get close to a woman in Princess Caroline’s entourage to find what dirt he can on the Princess. Perry reluctantly agrees, but only to keep his uncle from employing his second choice of spy, an all-around rotter and seducer of innocents – curse that honorable streak!
Amelia Fredericks is the orphaned daughter of the Princess’ maidservant and was raised in the royal household, becoming Princess Caroline’s companion. She is the one who makes sure that the household runs smoothly, acts as a buffer for the Princess and soothes all her crotchets. There are rumors that Amelia is also Princess Caroline’s bastard child and Amelia half believes it herself.
Perry and Amelia are smitten with each other from the very first and quickly become confidants; too quickly, in my opinion, trading secrets on the basis of two or three days’ acquaintance, though of course, not the Big Secrets, which will come back later to haunt them.
Michaels has arranged Shall We Dance into sections, rather than chapters, and the long opening section introduces our cast of thousands (or so it seemed to me). The characters are presented in short vignettes and with no interaction with any other characters, making it hard to get a fix on them, their relationships, and their motivations. Michaels finally offers a summation of all the characters, their motivations and whose side they are on on page 90, and afterward it was much easier to keep track of them all. But it was hard going until then.
All of these characters manage to infiltrate Princess Caroline’s household in some manner, which seemed very lax and lackadaisical to me from a security standpoint, when all know she is embattled by enemies all around. The ease with which so many people found their way into the house in such a short period of time required a major suspension of disbelief on my part.
Princess Caroline is very much a presence in the book; her mercurial temper, her grief over the death of her child Princess Charlotte, her coyness, her selfishness, her fear are vividly portrayed and Amelia’s dedication to and love for her, even with her eyes wide open to all her faults, is one of the best things about this book. I also enjoyed the secondary romance of Amelia’s school friend, which is given almost as much page time as that of Amelia and Perry.
I welcomed this glimpse into the life of an historical figure of whom too little is known (and appreciated Michaels’ Author’s Note on just how much of it was true) but ultimately, the structure of the book and its too many characters and their too-difficult-to-buy actions made it an only average read for me.