The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal
(Wow! What a cover!)
Setting the stage: It's 1572 in Scandinavia in the royal courts of King Christian V on the eve of his eldest daughter's wedding. (Aren't you already excited? It's a fairy tale with princesses.) However, poor Princess Sophia is unwell. You see, her mother has The Italian Fire and has had it since before Sophia's birth, so Sophia also suffers from it, and perishes on the night she is to be wed. Here in the courts of King Christian V, nothing is as it seems on the surface. The long-suffering princesses and prince? What's really afflicting the royal family? The king is unwell also. And one of the newest courtiers is scheming... This is a tale of a royal family in decline, the schemings of the royal court; the "magic" that always seems to take place in the presence of the court's single black slave; the hopes and aspirations of a simple peasant girl-turned-court seamstress. And the madness of a Queen inflicted with syphilis.
Susann Cokal skillfully weaves the tale through multiple perspectives, never losing the reader, never losing the trail of the story. The scenes are set so well you'll feel the chill of Scandinavia, the tensity in the presence of the ever-maddening Queen, smell the sickness in the nursery, hear the cries of anguish during a murder.
Yes, murder. Folks, this may be a "YA" book but it's not for the faint at heart. There's plenty of action in the bedclothes and plenty of discussion of the illnesses royals can contract from carelessness thereof. There's intrigue... and murder. There might also be a childbirth (I don't want to give anything away...) The final part of the book is rife with illness and bodily fluids. It's the 1570s. The "physicians" are still "treating" people with leeches. So it's all very real and pertinent to the story, I promise. No *gratuitous* sex & violence.
And oh, how you will cheer for one of the main characters, Ava! Ava, who had a very poor upbringing and who has already experienced such hardship and heartache before the book even begins! You will cheer her on as she just tries to survive day to day in the palace. Again, I don't want to give anything away, but just know that it's ok to keep cheering for Ava.
The author herself describes the book as a "syphilitic fairy tale" but it's so much more. It's gorgeous and full of actual history facts (the author even includes an afterword explaining the history) and full of princesses and redemption. And WOW--is it a rollercoaster of emotions!