Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson

Girl on the Golden Coin For more than three hundred years, an image of Britannia with her shield and spear or trident has been depicted on the reverse of certain British coins. In the 17th century, the model for Britannia was said to be Frances Stuart, who was described by Samuel Pepys as a great beauty and who famously refused to become a mistress of King Charles II. Girl on the Golden Coin is Frances Stuart’s story.

At the beginning of the novel, Frances is one of a family of Royalists who have been living in exile in Paris since Charles I was defeated in the English Civil War. With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the Stuart family return to favour and Frances joins the household of Henriette Anne, Charles II’s younger sister, who has just married the brother of Louis XIV of France (the ‘Sun King’). When Frances catches Louis’ eye, he sends her to the English court where she is faced with the task of seducing Charles, converting him to Catholicism and helping to form an alliance between England and France.

The rest of the novel follows Frances at the court of Charles II, exploring her relationships with the King, his noblemen and the other women of the court including the young Queen, Catherine of Braganza, and the King’s favourite mistress Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemaine. As Frances grows closer to Charles and begins to replace Castlemaine in his affections, she finds herself under pressure from the Queen Mother, the French ambassadors and various courtiers to use her influence with the King to help further their political intrigues – and failure to do so could result in her own family secrets being exposed.

Girl on the Golden Coin is Marci Jefferson’s first novel and was only published in February, but has been attracting some excellent reviews already. I can see its appeal, but unfortunately I didn’t enjoy it as much as most other readers have. It was fun to read but it was too light for me and didn’t have the depth I prefer in my historical fiction – although to be fair, that’s what I had suspected before I started reading but decided to still read it anyway as the Restoration is such an interesting period of history and I had never come across a book written from Frances Stuart’s perspective before.

I suppose given who Frances was and her position at court, it’s understandable that so much of the novel concentrates on her love life, but I would personally have preferred less romance, fewer descriptions of pretty silk dresses and beautiful jewels, and more focus on the history. The novel does touch on important issues such as religious conflict (in the form of two of Frances’ servants, one of whom is a Catholic and the other a Quaker), and the Anglo-Dutch War but I was disappointed that there were only a few pages devoted to some of the most significant historical events Frances lived through, such as the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. I couldn’t help making comparisons with Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, another historical romance set at the court of Charles II, but which captures the drama and atmosphere of the Restoration period in a way which, in my opinion, this book doesn’t.

I don’t want to sound too negative because I didn’t actually dislike Girl on the Golden Coin – it was a quick read that kept me entertained for a few days and a good introduction to the life of Frances Stuart, someone I previously knew almost nothing about. As the response to this novel so far has been overwhelmingly positive I’m sure Marci Jefferson has a very successful career ahead of her. This just wasn’t the right book for me.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.

14 thoughts on “Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Sometimes books just *aren’t* right for us – I completely disagreed with all the postive reviews of “The Old Ways” last year – but we are all individuals and some books will speak to use more than others!

  2. Leander says:

    I was very interested to read your thoughts on this, Helen, having very nearly applied for a copy through NetGalley myself. However I’d held back because I had a feeling that it might not be quite the kind of book for me… and, as I think our tastes are pretty similar in that respect, it was probably true. (Having said that, I *loved* Forever Amber when I read it!) 🙂 In any case, it must have been good to find out more about Frances Stuart? – I’ve been intrigued by her ever since I saw the two portraits of her in the In Fine Style exhibition: one by Lely, showing her as a conventional Windsor Beauty, and one by Huysmans showing her dressed as a man in a buff-coat and periwig. There must have been a story behind that portrait…

    Wishing you a more gripping book for your next read. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I think you probably made the right decision in not requesting this book, Leander. It was quite enjoyable in places and I don’t feel that I’ve wasted my time by reading it, but it’s not a book I would recommend to you based on what I know of your reading tastes. It was good to have the opportunity to learn about Frances Stuart’s life, though!

  3. Fleur in her World says:

    The cover and the idea were both lovely, so I’m sorry the book was a little disappointing. The Stuarts do seem to have had little attention from historical novelists, which is a shame given the characters, and the stories that might be told.

    • Helen says:

      I wish more historical novelists would choose to write about subjects other than the Tudors. It’s a shame there are so many fascinating periods and characters that get almost no attention at all.

  4. Lisa says:

    I’m interested in reading more about Charles II, but I think I’ll pass on this one, though Frances Stuart sounds like a fascinating character. Was she related to the royal Stuarts?

  5. Charlie says:

    I thought of Forever Amber when I saw the cover. I’ve not read either but the covers are so similar, so I suppose it’s fitting. I’d read it (Golden Coin) but I’m not sure I’d enjoy so much. I’ve been wondering the same as Lisa, that surname, given her status, intimates a relation.

    • Helen says:

      Forever Amber is great! I would highly recommend it if you’re interested in reading about the Restoration period. And yes, the two covers do look very similar, though I think the Golden Coin cover is more striking.
      As I’ve said in my reply to Lisa, Frances and her family were distantly related to the royal family.

  6. Alex says:

    I think a great part of being amateur reader is recognising that there is nothing wrong in admitting that you and a book just haven’t hit it off. Somewhere in the past I remember reading a different book about Frances Stuart, but I don’t recall it mentioning the Britannia link. I must see if I can find what it was and check.

    • Helen says:

      I had no idea about the link between Frances Stuart and Britannia before reading this book. In fact, I knew almost nothing at all about Frances, which is a shame as she certainly seems to have had a very interesting and eventful life.

  7. Anbolyn Potter (@anbolynp) says:

    I’ve noticed this on the new books shelf at my library and it has such a pretty cover that I almost checked it out – glad I didn’t! I don’t read much historical fiction, but when I do I really like something I can sink my teeth into, something like Wolf Hall.

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