My favorite series of 2016 read by my favorite narrator of 2016!
*On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service to be released on August 1st, 2017
Individual ratings & information:
*accidentally skipped this one. Update to come!
Recommended for lovers of:
Royals, Downton Abbey, Agatha Christie, Miss Marple, British humor, the 1930s, delightful frivolity
Suggested age group: 16+
Review Highlights: Research, Royals and Romance
I’ve often mentioned my love for royals, including royal history, and that love has met its match in my love of audiobooks. I discovered the Her Royal Spyness series in July 2016 and fell head over heels. Since then, I have turned to this series whenever I felt a listening slump coming on. Her Royal Spyness (#1) served as my introduction to the cozy mystery genre. I’ve sampled a few other cozy mystery series, but have yet to find one so perfect for me as this.
The primary appeal of the Her Royal Spyness series for me was the seamless integration of real royal history with fictitious storyline. I certainly don’t claim to be anything close to a royal expert, but I know enough about the history of the current British royal family to be able to identify fact from fiction in this series. It is obvious that Rhys Bowen did extensive research when preparing to include the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, George V, Queen Mary, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and the Duke of Clarence (just to name a few) in her storylines. She obviously took liberties when turning them into characters for the series, but mostly did an excellent job of portraying them as they were seen during the 1930s.
The most interesting thing about Bowen’s transformation of these historical figures into characters is the amount of authenticity she afforded them. As someone writing a work of fiction, I suppose she could have written these figures in just about any light. But, for the most part, they were portrayed pretty accurately. With the possible exception of the Duchess of Windsor, who was clearly used in an antagonistic manner. Whether or not Wallis was as antagonistic in life is frequently debated. Either way, the common perception of her made for convenient fodder.
I ❤ Royals
I overwhelmingly recommend this series to those with a love of royalty who are looking for lighthearted fun. However, don’t expect biographical accuracy. But if you want a general idea of the pre-WWII Windsors without having to read a work of nonfiction, this could loosely do the job. Just remember to take certain things with a grain of salt. For example, the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother) and Princess Marina Greece and Denmark (later the Duchess of Kent) were portrayed in very flattering lights, while Wallis Simpson (later the Duchess of Windsor) was almost villainized. Whether these portrayals stem from Rhys Bowen’s personal feelings or are merely reflections of common perceptions of the time, I have no idea.
I was very impressed by the inclusion of small bits of information such as Queen Mary’s penchant for collecting small items of value, Bertie’s speech impediment, Princess Elizabeth’s love of horses, Prince George’s bisexuality, the conspiracy theories surrounding the Duke of Clarence’s death, and so on. These are all things that were either frequently rumored or reported. Rhys Bowen used them as points of character development and to “set the atmosphere” since those were likely things that would have been talked about in the 1930s (vintage gossip).
When Fact Meets Fiction
With the groundwork laid using facts, the fiction fell easily into place. The main character, Lady Georgianna Rannoch (“Georgie”), is a fictitious, but highly believable figure. At 34th in line to the British throne, Georgie is the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria through one of her younger daughters who married a Scottish Duke. In fact, one of Victoria’s daughters really did marry a Scottish Duke and the title Duke of Rannoch did exist at one point in time (a subsidiary Jacobite peerage), but you won’t find a Lady Georgianna Rannoch in the Windsor family tree. See how well-blended fact and fiction are there?
As so many minor royals do, Georgie finds herself penniless and having to make her own way in the world. This endeavor is complicated by the fact that it was highly unconventional in the 1930s for women of Georgie’s stature to hold jobs. It would have been much more convenient for Georgie to allow her royal relatives to arrange a marriage for her to a foreign prince. However, over the course of the series, [minor spoiler] Georgie finds herself romantically entangled with the dashing and mysterious, but equally penniless son of an Irish peer.
I’m not normally one for unnecessary romantic subplots, but something about Georgie and Darcy’s complicated romance adds extra coziness to this cozy mystery series. By the third or fourth installment, I was “shipping” these two hard. Darcy’s “man of intrigue” angle really works with the overall mystery vibe of the series. He has a knack for showing up just when Georgie needs him most, although I do wish she was able to swoop in and save him a little more often. Still, Bowen goes pretty easy on the whole “damsel in distress” thing. Georgie’s independence and capability definitely increases as the series progresses.
The Cozy Factor
How cozy is this cozy mystery? Extremely.
Naturally, it’s important to gauge the “cozy factor” when reviewing a cozy mystery. I’ve heard that the cozy mystery [sub]genre is difficult to write and I find it pretty “hit-or-miss” as a reader too. The Her Royal Spyness series is the perfect example of coziness done right. Of course, this factor can be extremely subjective. For me, it was the involuntary grin that appeared on my face just seconds after beginning a new installment. Not to mention, the warm assurance of knowing that for the next 8 hours I could immerse myself in what would undoubtedly be a positive listening experience. This series has become my “sure thing”.
Coziness aside, there is an ominous undertone to the series surrounding Hitler’s rise and the looming second world war. Hitler is frequently mentioned, as he realistically would have been when discussing politics of the time. Rhys Bowen uses the reader’s knowledge of history to subtly contrast the ritz and glamour of London’s high society. Georgie’s world exists on an island. The series begins after WWI and will likely end before WWII, sheltering the reader and preserving the air of coziness.
Narration Review: Katherine Kellgren
Katherine Kellgren deserves just as much credit as Rhys Bowen for my enjoyment of the Her Royal Spyness series. This series made Kellgren my favorite narrator of 2016. If you haven’t heard her work, you have no idea what you’re missing! While I’m sure this series is a treat to read in traditional book format, it is phenomenal on audio.
Kellgren’s characterization skills are uncanny. A one woman band, she consistently gives listeners the illusion of having heard a full-cast performance. Her skills blow me away. She delivers distinctly accented vocalizations for at least a dozen characters in each installment. Even the most casual of listeners would have a hard time becoming distracted while listening to her narration. I’ve never had to wonder “Who’s speaking now?” because Kellgren makes listening a breeze.
Her narration exponentially enhances character development. For example, her voicing of Hilda “Fig” Rannoch (Georgie’s sister-in-law) is shrill and annoying… But it works perfectly with Bowen’s written description of Fig, who is supposed to be both shrill and annoying. It’s one thing to read a character description of shrill and annoying and another thing to hear it firsthand. Kellgren brings Rhys Bowen’s characters to life incredibly effectively. I hate Fig (and I’m supposed to!).
Overall series rating:
(rating for Masked Ball at Broxley Manor not considered, since it wasn’t a full installment)
Reviewer’s Note: This series is only available on audiobook through Audible.com. If you are interested in giving it a shot (which I totally recommend!), but don’t yet have an account with Audible, consider signing up through the banner below to get an extra audiobook with your free trial. Doing so will give me a small commission, but won’t cost you anything. Plus, if you are taken with Georgie in Her Royal Spyness (as I suspect you will be), you’ll be able to hear the next installment immediately!
To sum up: You can get the first two installments of this series (or any other two audiobooks) for free and help support The Audiobookworm!