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Review of The Tragic Daughters of Charles I: Mary, Elizabeth & Henrietta Anne by

The Tragic Daughters of Charles I: Mary, Elizabeth & Henrietta Anne

by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Reader, I finished the first chapter but could not go any further. The writing (or maybe copyediting) of this book is atrocious.

I know that in this day and age commas are misunderstood beasts of punctuation. As someone very invested in eradicating comma splices from my students’ writing, I tend to lean on the side of using fewer commas when in doubt. Yet this book takes that position to the extreme. The result are torturous sentences sometimes confusing and very often run-ons.

Here’s one example where an overly long sentence requires extra parsing to really comprehend:

In the days leading up to their marriage he stayed in the house of the Earl of Arundel and visited her frequently at Somerset House with gifts of jewels using a key he was given to enter through the garden door.

A painful run-on with a misplaced modifier as a bonus:

Seasick and exhausted from their journey, the group were met by Prince William and his cousins on arrival who had planned to take them by barge to Rotterdam but Henrietta Maria could not bear another moment’s travel on water and they were taken by carriage to the palace at Honselersdijk to recover.

If one of my students—who are adults taking high school credits to finish their diploma—presented these to me, I’d correct these sentences in front of them and explain exactly why and how I was doing it.

This problematic punctuation is the most irksome part of the larger problem, which is that this book lacks a strong authorial voice. I just don’t really get a sense of Watkins coming through. We hear from primary source accounts. Watkins certainly interjects some opinion and perspective of her own, but the narrator’s voice is extremely clinical. It has the tone of a dissertation, whereas I prefer my history books to craft a more compelling, contextual narrative.

Maybe I’m being too persnickety here—it seems like everyone else is loving this one?—but I just can’t do it.

One more NetGalley eARC on the DNF shelf.


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