Victoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef (review)
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Reef, Catherine Victoria: Portrait of a Queen. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017 [256p]illus. with photographs
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-544-71614-8 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-544-71595-0 $18.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 6-10

Victorian: soot-covered street gamins, florid wallpaper, colonialism, tight corsets, and stiff crinolines. Victoria? Whereas the period conjures its own distinct imagery, it’s likely that many readers will have few images and scant background on the queen herself. As Reef demonstrates in this fluidly narrated biography, Victoria started as a headstrong child struggling against her mother’s constraints and bad advice and grew into a headstrong adult pushing against many conventions and so wary of bad advice that she often missed the good counsel. This is no scandal tell-all, but it doesn’t require any extra sensationalism to pique reader interest in the queen and her court. Victoria’s mother’s involvement with a power-hungry gold-digger; the newly crowned queen’s gossip-mongering about a lady-in-waiting; her chilling yet hovering mothering style; her deep suspicion of anything that smacked of progressivism; her suspected-but-unproved relationships with a Scottish and then an Indian servant—the episodes seem as much the grist of Twitter feeds as confidences shared on luxurious stationery. Reef’s storytelling is impeccably paced, covering Victoria’s eighty-plus years with ease and assurance. Illustrations appear on nearly [End Page 129] every spread, and end matter includes a helpful family tree, a complete list of British monarchs, notes, bibliography, and index. This will be a valuable companion for lovers of Victorian period fiction and a satisfying read for biography fans.

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