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Monday, February 6, 2012

Review: By the King's Design by Christine Trent

Publisher: Kensington Publishing
Genre: historical fiction
Trade paperback, 384 pages 
Book Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
My Rating: 90/100

Strong-willed Annabelle Stirling is more than capable of running the family draper shop after the untimely death of her parents. Under her father's tutelage, she became a talented cloth merchant, while her brother Wesley, the true heir, was busy philandering about Yorkshire. Knowing she must change with the times to survive, Belle installs new machinery that finishes twice the fabric in half the time it takes by hand. But not everyone is so enthusiastic. 

Soon, riled up by Belle's competitors, the outmoded workers seek violent revenge. Her shop destroyed, Belle travels to London to seek redress from Parliament. While there, the Prince Regent, future King George IV, commissions her to provide fabrics for his Royal Pavilion. As Belle's renown spreads, she meets handsome cabinetmaker Putnam Boyce, but worries that marriage will mean sacrificing her now flourishing shop. And after Wesley plots to kidnap the newly-crowned King--whose indiscretions are surfacing--she finds herself entangled in a duplicitous world of shifting allegiances. 

Painting a vivid portrait of life in the British Regency, Christine Trent spins a harrowing tale of ambition, vengeance, love, and complex loyalties against the dynamic backdrop of the early Industrial Revolution. 

First thoughts? 

I'm slightly torn about this one, so I'll start out with what I adored about it.  This book is more than just Belle's story set in the Regency era.  It feels more like a take on events in the Regency era, and Belle happened to become involved in them.  By the King's Design is different in that, to me it didn't read like a normal HF novel, where the main character is witnessing or involved with every aspect of the story.  Belle is not the only with a narrative.  It sometimes shifts to Wesley or the Prince's perspective. The Prince's narratives were hilarious and if you weren't sure whether you liked the Prince before, you probably won't after reading this book.  What a pompous, melodramatic, idiotic boob!  All the Prince cared about was himself and his comforts, not that his people were starving or needed recompense and reforms to earn a living.   

Speaking of secondary characters I enjoyed all of them very much.  The architect John Nash, and a cabinet maker named Put Boyce were lovely, and their respective lines of work, added wonderful historical depth to the story.  Trent is fabulous with her details, from clothing to the events of the day, Trent fully immerses the reader in the story.

Now for what I didn't like about the book.  It comes down to two characters really: Belle and her brother Wesley.  First Belle.  She started off so strong and likable.  I adored her spirit, outspokenness, and ingenuity.  However, I felt that somewhere in the middle of the story, her character went completely opposite of what she was until that point.  I know Belle had no family, and thus forgave everything her brother did, but I thought this behavior was idiotic and naive.  It could be because I am older and more worldly than Belle, and thus have these opinions.  Or because as the reader, I know what Wesley is doing and Belle didn't.  However, after your brother betrayed you, wouldn't you keep your eyes on him and not trust him as much?  Just saying.  I thought Belle became quite weak, and she really started to work my nerves.  

I considered putting the book down, but I preserved, and Belle managed to work through this episode.  She reverted back to what I had originally liked about her character.  In retrospect, I guess Belle was trying to hold onto her past, but realized that wasn't going to happen and accepted the hand life dealt her.  Luckily for me Belle and the story rebounded nicely.

With respect to Wesley, he is such a weenie!  I seriously doubt whether he loved his sister as much as he proclaimed to.  Man up Wesley and stop being such a fop.  Yes, you fell in with a bad crowd, and developed bad habits, however, and again this could be my 2012 brain speaking here, I have no sympathy for you and your actions.  What your sister had to suffer through as a result of your actions was a shame.  Every story needs a villain and Wesley certainly fits the bill.

Well, these fictional characters have certainly caused me to have strong feelings, now didn't they?  That is the mark of a great writer in my opinion.


Yes, regardless of my feelings for Belle and Wesley and their behavior, I loved Trent's writing and the story she told.  She knows how to set the mood, the scene...I felt like a fly on the wall when events were unfolding.  Trent's inclusion of the historical details also drew me in.  The cabinet making process, how Brighton was designed, studying interior design, all of these aspects sucked me in.  The book didn't feel like a typical historical fiction novel and I loved that.  

Would I change anything? 

Yes, mainly Belle's behavior towards her brother.  I know that's part of the story and what needs to happen, but I didn't like it, so I would change it.

Overall I enjoyed this book, and will definitely read Trent's back list.  She puts her characters in unique positions to show the reader historical events from a different point of view.  Trent also has a humorous side to her that she lets out every now and then.  (Someone's buttons popped off and that was awesome!).  I'm curious to see if she includes that in her other novels.  Also, if you're like me and like to research the history contained within the story, there is no need to with this book.  Trent provides excellent extensive author's notes about the key people and aspects from her story.  I enjoyed the Author's notes as much as the book!

For more information about Christine Trent, this tour, and her other books, check out one of the following links:

Tour Schedule:
Christine Trent's Website:

     [It's cute!] 
Christine Trent on Facebook:
Tour Event Twitter Hashtag:  #BytheKing'sDesignVirtualTour

Thanks to HF Virtual Book Tours for including me on the tour.


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