The Shadow King

The Shadow King

Book - 2003
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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.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
ISBN: 9780618149131
Branch Call Number: Fic Stev
Characteristics: viii, 303 p. : maps ; 22 cm.


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Jun 03, 2014

In this second book in the trilogy, Balthasar, son of Pelagius, an African prince, and Elizabeth of Bohemia, leaves Holland for London after the death of his father, when the plague ravages the country of his birth. He is a doctor, so expects to make his living there, but his rigid Puritanism is just one thing that makes life difficult for him in Restoration England. He lives among the Dutch Puritan community, and makes a life-long friend of a white English Puritan whose life story oddly matches his own. This man is descended from King Solomon and the last King of Byzantium. As two exiled kings, they feel a connection and hold themselves above the English. Balthasar's friend grew up in Barbados, and his mother's health prompts him to return to her. He convinces Balthasar to accompany him, saying his medical skills will be of great use there. Balthasar marries a white servant woman he barely knows, which causes him trouble in the racist society of the island. His wife proves to be a great help to him in other ways, however. Ultimately, they return to London. The story is compelling, and beautifully told--the horrors of life for the slaves and poor whites on Barbados are chilling. But Balthasar's personality, while clearly examined, is not as sympathetic as those of his parents, partly because they were so secretive with him.


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