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'Girl on the Golden Coin' a juicy vacation read

Marci Jefferson's debut novel "Girl on the Golden Coin" paints a rich and vivid portrayal of the fascinating life of Frances Stuart (1647-1702) and her struggles as the 15-year old mistress of French King Charles II.

The prologue opens in the narrator's present when King James' heir is in doubt and this older Frances is about to be called on to validate the child's royal birth. Frances reflects on her time at both the French and English courts, her image on a copper farthing, and the things she had to do in order to remain as unscathed as possible. Immediately, questions arise as to Frances' safety in a volatile time.

Chapter 1 returns to the past of 1661 in Paris when the younger Frances, with the status and threadbare attire equal to a servant despite her royal Stuart blood, realizes her only chance of pulling her family out of the poverty that the aristocratic wars have left them in can only be expunged by a good marriage. At a wedding, Frances spots the English duke who she deems her last hope. Her fabled beauty and wit turn out to be the key. This impression, however, turns into a kind of curse when she realizes she will have to pay back the giver with favor. But this is the time when favors begat favors whether political or sexual.

Bestowed title of handmaiden to her princess cousin, Frances leaves her home and becomes embroiled in the French court and her cousin's plot to become queen. However, when Frances chooses loyalty to her cousin over the King Louis XIV's advances, she is subsequently ordered to become the spy-mistress of King Charles II of England. Unsanctimoniously dumped in London, life in the English court is a constant battle where she is forced to dance between her moral compass, her knowledge of her family's station, and her duties as a child mistress to a king.

As all historical novels do, "Girl on the Golden Coin" liberally recreates personal conversations, whispered promises and other unrecorded dalliances. However, Jefferson builds much of the story around actual letters, references, biographies, and historical and contemporary documents to show the tension that accompanied royal life.

A juicy vacation read when you want to become embroiled in an entirely different world, "Girl of the Golden Coin" celebrates the woman who, through King Charles's love and devotion, became the model for the Britannia, the female personification of Britain beauty and pride.

Once the first page turns, you won't want to come up for air.

The author grew up in an Air Force family and lived in numerous places, including North Carolina, Georgia and the Philippines. Jefferson's passion for history sparked while living in Yorktown, where locals still share Revolutionary War tales. She now lives in Indiana with her husband and children. This is her first novel.

Poet, memoirist, and fiction writer Shonda Buchanan is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Hampton University. Her book, "Who's Afraid of Black Indians?" was nominated for the Literary of Virginia Literary Contest and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Awards. For more information go to shondabuchanan.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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