Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Flaw in the Blood by Stephanie Barron

The death of Prince Albert, the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria, sets her off on a course of mourning and persecuting a solicitor named Patrick Fitzgerald, who, twenty years ago, defended a man accusing of attempting to kill the queen. She summons him to a midnight meeting at Windsor Palace and attempts to make him sign a paper saying he colluded in that long-ago attempt to kill her, but he refuses.

Patrick Fitzgerald is not alone in being persecuted by the Queen and her agents, for with him is his ward, Georgiana Armistead, who is a medical doctor and the daughter of a noted Physician. When the Royal Carriage they are travelling in nearly overturns, Fitzgerald finds a device in the road meant to make them have an accident. But they survive and manage to return to London, where Fitzgerald finds that his law partner and good friend has been attacked and their law offices ransacked.

He goes to find Georgiana, who has been summoned to the bedside of a young prostitute who had recently had an abortion. The abortionist punctured her uterus and left her septicimic. Georgiana saves her with timely surgery, but the girl dies thereafter, and both she and Fitzgerald are forced to flee when men come and attempt to kill them as well. When she returns home to gather a few things, she sees that her home has also been ransacked, and some of her letters stolen, letters from the Prince Consort, where she discussed with him his opinions on public health, sanitation and the like.

She is confused about why anyone should do this, as there was nothing in there to cause dishonor to fall on her or Prince Albert. Fitzgerald concludes that it must have something to do with the Queen and/or the Prince's family. Georgiana shares that the Prince Consort had her examine his youngest son with Victoria, who was a victim of a rare disorder where he cannot stop bleeding. Her father had been interested in such diseases, and been trying to study them. Now, for some reason, Queen Victoria wants to go after the knowledge and wipe it out. But why?

Georgiana and Fitzgerald take refuge on the island of Sheppey, at a place called Stullen, where Fitzgerald's wife lives. She is dying of Syphillis, gotten off one of her numerous lovers when she lived for sensation. Fitzgerald loved her but she wouldn't stop her infidelities, so they have lived apart for many years. They have one son, Thomas, who believes that his mother caught Syphillis from his father's infidelities, and although Fitzgerald tries to tell him the truth, Thomas will not believe it.

They are persued to the island by a man named Stühlen, a former friend of Albert's and a most ruthless predator. He once tried to become Georgiana's lover, but she laughed in his face, which infuriated him. Now that he has her in his sights again, he will not stop his pursuit until he has both her and Fitzgerald. But can they evade him while they solve the Mystery of why Queen Victoria wants this suppressed so badly?

Meanwhile, Victoria's daughter, Alice, being skeptical that her father died of typhoid, tries to unravel the mystery as well, but her mother's strange actions, and dislike of her own daughter, inhibits her investigations. What is really going on in the royal family, and why did Prince Albert die?

This was a very interesting mystery, revolving around an actual historical mystery. If neither Prince Albert's family nor Queen Victoria's family harbored Hemophilia, where did it arise from in Queen Victoria and her children, given that females are carriers of the disease (but do not have it) and only male children develop the disease? This story provides a possibly fictional answer, as well as the same for Prince Albert's death.

I found the book itself a bit hard to get through, what with the multiple viewpoints that constantly changed, seemingly without rhyme or reason. We get inside the head of Queen Victoria, and sometimes other characters, but most of the book is written in third person. The constant switching of viewpoints isn't very successful, in my opinion, as it can be quite jarring at times.

However, the ending is laid out from the beginning, if you can read between the lines, although some of it still remains a surprise at the end. I'd recommend the book, but with caution, as it can be irritating to read at times.

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