Title: Lilies, Lies and Love (Miss Lily #4)
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 23rd March 2020
Synopsis: As the King of England wavers between duty and love, Sophie knows that she must choose duty.
The year is 1936 and the new King Edward VIII wishes to marry American divorcee, and suspected German agent, Wallis Simpson. Top-secret documents that the king must read and sign are being neglected for weeks, and some are even turning up in Berlin.
And as Germany grows its military might with many thousands of new fighter planes every year, Britain and its empire are under increasing threat.
Can Miss Lily’s most successful protege, Sophie Vaile, the Countess of Shillings, seduce the new king, prevent his marriage to Wallis Simpson, and turn him from fascism?
And if a man can sacrifice his life for his country, should a woman hesitate to sacrifice her honour?
Based on new correspondence found in German archives, Lilies, Love and Lies is a work of fiction.
Or is it?
In the fourth title in the Miss Lily series, Jackie French explores one of the most controversial events in history that saw the unthinkable happen when a king chose love over duty.
The last few books in the Miss Lily series have been slowly building up to and hinting at what is to come during the 1930s and 1940s, with the Great Depression, Nazi Germany and World War Two. Sophie and her children, Danny and Rose, have been living with Lily, Violette and Violette’s parents at Thuringa, when they hear of King Edward the VIII’s plans to marry Wallis Simpson, and concerns about Nazi influences coming into the royal family, and infiltrating Britain – had this happened, things could have been very different for those groups that Hitler targeted – these are still groups that face oppression today, sometimes more in more subtle ways. James Lorrimer shows up, and Sophie and her family travel to Britain.
Sophie is tasked with seducing David to prevent his marriage to Wallis Simpson and change his mind about fascism – and we all know how David’s story ends, even without this fictional intervention. What follows is an intriguing story of honour and a king who wanted to marry for love, not duty. Jackie French has yet again melded fictional characters with real ones, taking lesser known history, and hidden documents to create a believable story, where we know the historical outcomes, yet uncovering how things potentially got to that point is as exciting and intriguing as everything else going on in the book.
Sophie is caught between duty to her family, and Shillings, and duty to her country and empire – and at this stage in history, Australia would still stand alongside Britain in the war as part of the empire and fight a common enemy. It is also a love story – love of family, love of country and finding out you can love again once you’ve lost someone. It is the combination of all these elements at the hand of Jackie French, and the integration of history that make this a powerful novel. Every character has a purpose. Every moment has its place, and every heart-breaking, and worry-ridden moment is dealt with using sympathy and empathy, in short chapters that reveal so much between the lines of what is said, and what is not said. What this series explores – the taboos, beliefs and what was common for the times yet that the main characters question in their own way whilst having to maintain a certain face of respectability in their public lives – at a time when it was dangerous to go against the status quo. The characters and those close to them understand this and use this knowledge to play the long game and politics. As Miss Lily taught her proteges – the men they deal with will tell a woman anything because they do not think a woman will think much of it. Across the series, Miss Lily, Sophie and all the Lovely Ladies have used this advice to subvert how they operate in society – even though they are underestimated and not seen as a threat – in many ways, they are. If not violently like Violette, then subversively like Sophie – though not always successful, the espionage techniques used show the wider role women have played in war and politics beyond what the history books show. To do this, Jackie French has done immense amounts of research to put these untold stories together. Her books teach us so much about history that is left out of lessons and official history books, or official records that are hidden. This means we can learn more, and sometimes, when done this way, opens up many avenues for enquiry as we are not limited by the facts put in textbooks.
There are a few moments where I had my heart in my mouth, pleading for the inevitable not to happen, especially in the latter chapters of the book. It was something that was shocking and had to be processed – one of the most devastating moments of the book that showed just how brutal the Nazi regime was before it started carting people off to camps and gas chambers in the forties for the Final Solution.
This book left me with a few questions: Is it possible this really happened? That Edward VIII’s hand was forced? And what would the implications have been if he’d remained king throughout World War Two? We’ll never know these answers, but things might have ended up very differently for Britain and world history. We cannot change history – it has happened and we are where we are, yet we can still learn the history that wasn’t taught in class, and question what we learned – all it takes is a special series like this by an author like Jackie who is quite the genius when it comes to putting these stories together.
I love this series, and I am eager for the next one – to see what will happen, how will things have changed – and how will the impending war change Sophie and her children?
Another wonderful book from one of the best Australian authors!