Ladies in Waiting

Ladies in Waiting

3.6 3
by Laura L. Sullivan

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Eliza dreams of being a playwright for the king’s theater, where she will be admired for her witty turns of phrase rather than her father’s wealth.

Beth is beautiful as the day but poor as a church mouse, so she must marry well, despite her love for her childhood sweetheart.

Zabby comes to England to further her scientific studies—and


Eliza dreams of being a playwright for the king’s theater, where she will be admired for her witty turns of phrase rather than her father’s wealth.

Beth is beautiful as the day but poor as a church mouse, so she must marry well, despite her love for her childhood sweetheart.

Zabby comes to England to further her scientific studies—and ends up saving the life of King Charles II. Soon her friendship with him becomes a dangerous, impossible obsession. Though she knows she should stay away from the young, handsome king, Charles has a new bride, Queen Catherine, and a queen needs ladies in waiting.

And so Zabby, Beth, and Eliza, three Elizabeths from very different walks of life, find themselves at the center of the most scandal-filled court that England has ever seen.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Entertaining. . . . a Philippa Gregory spin-off for teens."--VOYA

"[Sullivan] paints a colorful and largely accurate portrait of Restoration London. The unusual ending, especially, anchors the book more to history than to romance."--Kirkus Reviews

VOYA - Julie Bowersox
This novel follows three ladies-in-waiting and the Portugal queen, Catherine of Braganza, during the mid-late seventeenth century. The plot focuses on the female role, friendship, courtship, and our young Elizabeths' finding their true purpose and love in life. The ladies-in-waiting are all named Elizabeth but go by a variation of the name, each as unique as her moniker. Zabby has a love of science, which also leads to a love of King Charles II as she spends as much time as she can in his "elaboratory." Eliza's love of acting and playwriting lead her from an unwanted marriage set up by her father to her own financial freedom. Poor Beth struggles as her only desire in life to marry her childhood sweetheart is stifled by her grotesque, syphilitic mother's need to protect and empower her daughter by marrying Beth off to a rich man. Meanwhile, throughout the novel's entirety, Queen Catherine struggles with her faithless King Charles II. This story stretches the feminine role during its time period as our ladies-in-waiting buck the system, each with their individual agendas for their freedom from societal norms. This novel is character-driven with not much said about its historical setting, aside from subtle suggestions of King Charles' wanton behavior. It is unrealistic to the era as most women would not find themselves with so much power during this time period, but it is nonetheless entertaining. It is a Philippa Gregory spin-off for teens. Reviewer: Julie Bowersox
Children's Literature - Sarah Maury Swan
Three Elizabeths are ladies in waiting to Queen Catherine, wife of England's King Charles II. Zabby comes to England to study science with her grandmother, but saves the king's life almost as soon as she is off the ship. He has the plague and insists that no one know. Rumors of Zabby's being one of Charles' many playmates become engrained in the Court's minds after she becomes a lady in waiting at the king's request. Eliza's father, a wealthy commoner, thinks his daughter's attendance at Court will enhance his chances of gaining the King's ear. She doesn't care a whit for getting married, instead wishing for a life as playwright. And Beth, a great beauty, whose syphilis-ridden mother is a harridan jealously guarding her daughter's virginity until she can marry her off to a wealthy nobleman. Beth would prefer to marry the son of the man who brought her family low. All kinds of intrigue and scandalous behavior bubble and boil at King Charles' court as he begets many bastard children, but never a legitimate heir. In desperation to keep her husband's evermore flagging interest, Queen Catherine sneaks out with her three Ladies in Waiting to visit a gypsy known to cure infertility. Only one of the Elizabeths follows her dream. The ending is confusing and never explains whether Charles was complicit in the Queen's abduction. Still the description of the time and court intrigue is compelling. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—In 17th-century England within King Charles II's court are three young women, all of whom are named Elizabeth. They become Queen Catherine of Braganza's maids of honor and swear an oath of eternal friendship to one another. Wealthy Eliza is interested in theater and in avoiding marriage; poor Beth in finding her one true love; and Zabby, there by accident, in science and learning. The Elizabeths pursue their passions while serving the king and queen as best they can, including disguising themselves and taking the queen out to learn about "the world of men." The book traces the stories of their three divergent paths. The language is sophisticated, and many of the scenes are earthy or bawdy. Societal mores are woven into the plot, such as gender inequality and marriage of convenience rather than for love. Ultimately, this is a love story, but not one that ends happily ever after, and it will leave many readers unsatisfied. The framework laid down in this book presents great promise, but stunted character development and what feels like incomplete plot realization result in too many loose ends.—Jesse L. Ray, Seattle Public Library, WA
Kirkus Reviews
Three girls named Elizabeth suffer pangs of frustrated love in the court of Charles II in 1662 in this story that places equal emphasis on romance and history. Wealthy Eliza dreams of becoming a witty playwright and plans never to marry, as she believes her adoring father will never force her into a match she doesn't want. Impoverished Beth, her noble family ruined by her profligate father, now struggles against her insane, dominating mother. Zabby, who cares only for science, arrives from Barbados and unfortunately falls in love with King Charles himself. All three Elizabeths become ladies in waiting to the new Queen Catherine. Eliza must escape somehow when she learns that her father intends to force her into marriage after all, Beth falls desperately in love with a boy whose father helped ruin her family and Zabby can only approach Charles as a friend in scientific endeavors, not as a lover. Even while writing some rather preposterous (though probably popular) romance, Sullivan works hard to keep the history realistic. She sprinkles her characters' dialogue with idioms from the era to an extent that may confuse modern readers a bit, but she certainly paints a colorful and largely accurate portrait of Restoration London. The unusual ending, especially, anchors the book more to history than to romance. A mixture that may well intrigue readers. (Historical romance. 12 & up)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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6 MB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Rich Man’s Daughter

England, June 1662

Eliza Parsloe, age fifteen, tickled her chin with her plumed pen and gazed levelly at her latest opponent, Lord Ayelsworth, second Earl of Lambert. To her great displeasure, he took it for flirtation and sidled closer until his foppishly beribboned thigh crushed the delicate moiré of her apricot skirt.

"You slay me with those killing eyes," he sighed.

Those killing eyes rolled, for she knew he was looking not at her decidedly plain brown orbs, but rather at the fortune in emeralds at her throat, or perhaps, to give him credit as a man of flesh as well as avarice, at the swell of bosom lower down.

Why did each and every suitor feel it necessary to harp upon her nonexistent physical charms? If just one had suggested they could use her vast fortune and his court influence to rule the nation, to set the mode, she might have been swayed. But no, they spoke of her languishing eyes, her enchanting hair; compared her neck to a swan’s and her skin to pearls, when she knew full well her only beauty lay in the acres of timber, the flotillas of merchant ships, and the masses of gold settled on her as the only child of the fabulously wealthy Jeremiah Parsloe.

She turned away from him and dipped her quill in the ink, dripping a blob, unnoticed, on her buttercup-colored satin underskirt, and began to scribble.

"What do you write, sweetheart?" Ayelsworth asked, craning his skinny neck to see. "I would pen you a thousand love poems daily, if only you would be mine!"

Eliza dipped the pen again and flicked it as she turned to reply, spattering his multihued ribbons with blue-black. He squealed and leaped up. Eliza instantly kicked up her feet and crossed her ankles, reconquering the lost territory of her chaise.

"It is a play," she said.

"What do you call it, sweet nymph?"

"Nunquam Satis," she said, and though he had no Latin, he knew the vulgar tongue. He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or blush.

"My dear, do you know what that means?"

"‘Never satisfied,’" she replied evenly.

"Ah, but in the common cant, it means . . . it means . . ." He could not tell her what part of a woman’s anatomy was, by popular jest, never satisfied. She was from a reputedly Puritan family. Very likely she was not even aware of that particular part of herself.

Ayelsworth, though but twenty, was a habitué of Charles II’s court, and accustomed to whores, courtesans, and loose ladies of rank. He was not quite sure what to expect from this provincial heiress. All he knew for certain was that she was the catch of the season, and if he could secure her, his future was assured.

Her father had given him permission to try for her hand, leaving them alone with only a maidservant within, for propriety, and a liveried footman without, in case he should try to claim his prize by force. Now, that was a thought, he mused. It had certainly been done before, though mostly through abduction. Still, if he managed to spoil the goods here on the chaise, she and her father would probably agree to let him buy what remained.

He looked over her big-boned, recumbent form. She was at least a head taller than he, and he didn’t think much of his chances in a forcible seduction.

He clung instead to what had worked with other ladies—wit and conversation.

"Pray, what is your play about?"

"An heiress deciding which of her many suitors to accept."

"A tragedy, then, for all but one lucky swain. Will you read me a snippet?"

For the first time she blessed him with a smile—her teeth were good, at any rate, he noted—and blew on her pages to dry the ink before she picked them up to read.

"This bit I just finished is a conversation between Lady Nuncsat and Lord Stormthebreech. He tries to persuade her of the chief benefit of having a husband, and she protests that if husbands are à la mode, another’s will suit her just as well:

"‘Is carnal pleasure prize for married misery I’ll reap?
I’ll ride the steed—or not—and let another pay his keep.
Who’d buy with precious liberty what she’d get elsewhere gratis?
I’ll keep my heart and hand and wealth,’ quoth Lady Nunquam Satis."

"Ah . . . ahem. She is a villain, then?"

"Lord Stormthebreech thinks so, and calls her a fishwife and a mettlesome jade who ought to be forced to feel a man’s hand on her rein. She replies,

"‘Touch me and you’ll find a fishwife verily, by gods!
One who shucks your oysters and fillets your pretty cods.’"

Ayelsworth’s hand cupped his own cods protectively, and it was not long before he excused himself with flourishing apology, never to be seen in the Parsloe household again. He would give a great deal to have Eliza’s wealth, but not that.

"What did you say to this one?" her father asked sharply when he entered to find her alone.

"Oh, he spoke to me of the theater," she said nonchalantly, placing a book of sermons on top of her manuscript. Her father had no idea she’d read every play on the boards since the theaters reopened with the king’s return from exile. Her maid, Hortense, was liberally paid to smuggle them back from her monthly sojourns with the housekeeper to London for supplies that could not be had in the village.

"You cannot allow yourself to become offended because a gentleman speaks to you of plays. Why, I’m told even the most pious go to the theater. I know you’ve been delicately reared, my dear, but when you are a married woman you might be . . . ahem . . . exposed to things your upbringing didn’t prepare you for."

Eliza affected the serene incomprehension of a novice in a nunnery and said, "In any event, sir, I find I cannot love him."

"Love! What nonsense. A pity I promised your mother on her deathbed I’d only give you away with your own consent. A girl can’t be expected to know what’s good for her."

She bowed her head in seeming acquiescence. Eliza had been there for her mother’s final breath a few years ago. "Let Eliza marry for love," she’d pleaded as she fingered the embroidered hem of her sheets weakly. "See what my marriage has been, and let her give her heart and fortune where she pleases."

Jeremiah took it to mean that his was a love union and had worked out well. Eliza, who better knew her mother’s secret longings and frustrated passions, read those words otherwise. I had a chance at love with another man, her mother said in cipher. But I threw it all away at my family’s behest. I married where they bid me, for money, and had nothing but misery in it all, save for you, my daughter. You have money, her mother’s dying eyes had said so eloquently. You can afford to wait for affection.

Eliza clung to that idea, since it so closely matched her own. Though her father was true in the letter to his wife’s deathbed wish, he had plans of his own he was not willing to abandon for the sake of feminine sentimentality.

"What am I to do with you, child? Is there no one pious and decent enough to win you? Ayelsworth has a fair reputation among that stew of rakes."

So you believe, sir, Eliza thought. Hortense brought different tidings from gossip gleaned at the Royal Exchange, London’s vibrant marketplace. Ayelsworth was known to frequent the most scandalous brothels (Eliza thought she could perhaps forgive an occasional sojourn to London’s better brothels) and was deep in debt.

"Also," Hortense had whispered to her before the lord’s arrival, "Bab at the Queen’s Point Shop told me he takes a bolus regular, no doubt mercury for the pox."

"He’s a perfect match," Eliza’s father went on. "The highest title to come for you so far."

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Entertaining. . . . a Philippa Gregory spin-off for teens."—VOYA "[Sullivan] paints a colorful and largely accurate portrait of Restoration London. The unusual ending, especially, anchors the book more to history than to romance."—Kirkus

Meet the Author

Laura L. Sullivan is a former newspaper editor, biologist, social worker, and deputy sheriff who writes because storytelling is the easiest way to do everything in the world. She lives on the Florida coast, but her heart is in England.

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Ladies in Waiting 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
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