British-Nigerian author Victoria Princewill has just released her second book The Diary of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a YA retelling of the real life story of the eponymous orphaned African princess. The book was published on February 16 by Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books.
Sarah Forbes Bonetta, who became Queen Victoria’s protégée, was born in West Africa of Yoruba descent and captured at the tender age of five in 1848 during the Okeadon War. In this war, King Gezo of Dahomy captured the city of Okeadon, and Sarah’s family was killed in the war. Since Sarah was the daughter of an African chief, she was kept in captivity as a state prisoner.
In 1850, Captain Forbes arrived in Dahomey on the ship Bonetta (note the names) to ask for the suppression of the slave trade. While there, he asked King Gezo for the little girl as a present (ironically enough). In this manner, young Sarah was brought to England and given the names of Forbes Bonetta, after the Captain and the ship. She lived with the Captain’s family, and after a few months, she was taken to Windsor Castle where she became Queen Victoria’s protégée. The queen paid for Sarah’s education and Sarah lived under her tutelage, becoming a musical genius.
Princewill retells Sarah’s story with grace and dignity, making sure to preserve the facts of history while humanizing the princess. According to the publisher, Princewill “reimagines Sarah’s life in England, telling the story of a girl living between two cultures, trying to create, and assert, her own identity.”
Read the full synopsis below:
“You are not an aristocrat. An aristocrat is born to a noble family. You were born into royalty. You are a princess.”
Set in 1860, this is the story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, the intelligent, multilingual Yoruba princess from West Africa who became the protégé of the British Queen Victoria.
On the evening of her seventeenth birthday, she is told that her old name, her real name is Aina. Oma’ba Aina from the fallen Oyo Empire.
Equipped with this knowledge, Sarah attempts to navigate life as a foster daughter, a protégé and a young black girl in Victorian England. But can one really feel like royalty when the freedom of autonomy is something so far out of reach for a person of her gender and race?
Much like her debut novel In the Palace of Flowers, Princewill aims to to shed light on Black women’s stories that have been forgotten by history. The publisher’s note says that this book is the first of two titles from Princewill that will focus on real Black women born into royalty. Stay tuned for more African princess stories Princewill.
Princewill is a Black British author primarily writing in the genre of historical fiction. She holds an MA in literature from Oxford and an MA in Philosophy from University College London, and is currently working towards a third graduate degree in neuroscience at King’s College London. Her debut novel In the Palace of Flowers (2021) explores the life of Jamila, an Abyssinian slave who stands at the funeral of a Persian nobleman, knowing her life will never be valued the same.
If you enjoy reading historical fiction centered on women’s stories and written by African women, then Princewill’s The Diary of Sarah Forbes Bonetta is right up your alley! Princewill’s story evokes Scholastique Mukasonga’s The Barefoot Woman and Hemley Boum’s Days Come and Go, and will definitely make you feel as if you’re living in the Victorian times.
Buy The Diary of Sarah Forbes Bonetta: Amazon (UK) | Scholastic | Amazon (US)