The prolific British author of historical romances (Fleur, 1993, etc.) and the Bill Slider mysteries gathers here an attractive nosegay tribute to the legendary marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert--though the author's queen is no violet of sentiment (or risible caricature) but ardent, shrewd, and tough. In a modern idiom, Victoria tells her own story near the end of a long life. Born in 1819, offspring of the gallivanting Duke of Kent, she had a miserable childhood, thanks largely to her mother's platonic but simple-minded attachment to a con-man/social climber determined to control the future queen. Finally, however, after dear Uncle William's death (William IV), she's queen at last--and free! The triumphant, exhilarated young Victoria has a cherished champion and guide in the prime minister, Lord Melbourne. Then Uncle Leopold of Belgium sends over a brace of cousins, and one, of course, is Albert. True to her lusty Hanoverian blood, Victoria exclaims: ""He was beautiful!"" Marriage brings fabulous flight but also an inevitable clash of wills. Studious, dutiful Albert demands work and a husband's authority, but Victoria is not about to give up royal responsibilities--those she waited so long for--to anyone. She does capitulate, however, with a revelation: ""It is perfectly possible to love someone absolutely . . . even though you may be fighting with them for your very life."" Through the years of parenthood (nine children, including poor Bertie, the Prince of Wales), grueling work, tragedy and triumphs, Albert's hard efforts and dedication grind on but his spirit flags. He dies at age 42. The old Victoria, still mourning, still besotted, states a bald truth: Her ""perfect"" one had a sad want of what they call pluck. With sure historical detail, Harrod-Eagles offers a gentle, lively, never oversweet portrait--with entertaining suppositions about the real Victoria behind that ""old woman in a bonnet"" on bottles of Bombay gin.