The Shadow King
This superb novel, set in seventeenth-century Holland, Restoration London, and Barbados, is the second volume of Jane Stevenson's masterly historical trilogy. The Winter Queen, the acclaimed first volume, told of the mature passion of Elizabeth of Bohemia and her clandestine lover, an African prince and former slave. Balthasar Stuart, the secret child born of their love, is the protagonist of The Shadow King. Now a young doctor, he struggles to come to terms with his rich, difficult, and complex heritage. Neither black nor white, royal nor commoner, African nor European, he is in every sense a pretender, and truly at home nowhere in the world. Race and identity -- great human themes, great American themes -- are at the heart of this extraordinary work. Driven out of Holland by the plague, Balthasar makes his way first to the raffish, cynical world of Restoration London and then to Barbados, a colonial society marked by slavery and savage racism. Every stage of his life is informed by the political and religious background of the era, and the rich, everyday human past, too, is brought vividly to life, in people's habits of thought and speech, their food and fashions, their medical practices.
With each new book, Jane Stevenson's remarkable fiction gains new recognition. Now, while awaiting the stunning modern conclusion of her trilogy, readers can once again rejoice in the powerful imagination, formidable intellect, and radiant language of a writer often compared to Penelope Fitizgerald and A. S. Byatt.
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
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