Originally published: 1944
My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press)
How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004
Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.
Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who allows himself to be cuckolded. Amber starts out in jail for debt, then becomes a thief, then moves on to the theatre, entertaining the college-age fops who attend. Her ambitions only rise from there as she sleeps with some of the most influential men in England.
Eventually Amber follows her ambitions using her two strengths: her personality and beauty, ending up as the mistress to King Charles himself. The last quarter of the book involves itself in the court scandals of the time, not the least of which were sexual. Winsor is a little prudish and shies away from the sex that occurs in the book, but she places most of her focus on the clothes the people in London wore in the 1660s. The details are lavish and gorgeous, and made me wish I'd lived in that time period.
Amber is NOT supposed to be a likeable character. She is probably has the most character flaws of anyone who appears in this book. Her desperate love for Bruce is the cornerstone of the story, and Amber seems almost too desperate. Even though she insists that next time she will act aloof and sitant, she throws herself at him like a puppydog. When she finds out that Bruce has a wife, whom he met in America, Amber becomes hysterical with rage. Eventually she and Lady Carlton will become acquainted at court--and the outcome is not good. Once King Charles finished with one of his mistresses, her never gave up on her. That is, he never turned her out of Whitehall Palace. Amber quickly becomes one of those mistresses, liked by absolutely no one at court. However, she continues to hang on. The plan that Buckingham devises to get rid of her for once and all is clever and leaves the reader hanging on the edge of thier seat in the final pages of the novel.
It was a beautifully written book that I will probably re-read over and over again. It gave a great insight into the lives people led at Charles's court, one that was decadent and sinful in comparison to the Puritans who had preceded him. A must for those who love this period in history or historical fiction in general. I also recommend: the works of Anya Seton, especially Katherine and Green Darkness; Slammerkin; and The Crimson Petal and the White.