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The winter queen
Stevenson, Jane, 1959-
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Publication Information:
Boston, [MA] : Houghton Mifflin, [2001]

Physical Description:
307 pages, 1 unnumbered page ; 22 cm
General Note:
"First published as Astraea in Great Britain in 2001 by Jonathan Cape, Random House"--T.p. verso.
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Jane Stevenson's Several Deceptions was hailed as one of the outstanding literary debuts of the year 2000. Now, with The Winter Queen, Stevenson confirms her place as a major new talent. This superb novel, the first in a historical trilogy, is a work of extraordinary ambition and range. Set in Holland in the seventeenth century, The Winter Queen is a sweeping portrait of the tumultuous history and politics of the era as well as an immensely moving account of a strange and magical love affair. At its center are two royal exiles: Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Winter Queen, and her clandestine lover, an African prince with shamanic gifts, sold into slavery and freed after years of bondage. Their world is delineated by the illuminating portraiture and exquisite detail of the Dutch paintings of the period. But beneath the light-filled surfaces, crowned heads lie uneasy, scheming princes vie for power, chaos and war threaten in a time of painful uncertainties.
As always with Jane Stevenson's work, The Winter Queen appeals powerfully to both the heart and the mind. This elegant novel is that rare achievement: a brilliant, beautiful, astonishingly learned work that is also wonderfully entertaining.

Author Notes

Jane Stevenson was born in 1959 in London & brought up in London, Beijing, & Bonn. She teaches comparative literature & translation studies at the University of Warwick & lives with her husband in Warwickshire, England. Her novel, "London Bridges," will be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2001.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The chilly scenery of 17th-century Holland is on display in this curious novel by Stevenson (Several Deceptions; London Bridges), as viewed from the unusual perspective of a former African prince and freed slave. Pelagius van Overmeer begins his life in the Low Countries as a theology student, freed by his master, Comrij, after 20 years of servitude in the East Indies. His studies are interrupted when Comrij calls him to The Hague, where they labor on a catalogue of the plants of the East. Just as Pelagius is about to despair of ever being truly free, he finds himself alone once more, with money in his pocket and a promising career as a seer. An introduction to the exiled Elizabeth of Bohemia, or the Winter Queen, as she is called, truly transforms Pelagius's life. Elizabeth, a widow and mother of 10 children, is well into her 40s but still shrewd and hearty; Pelagius, in his 40s, too, is more reserved and mindful of his ambiguous position. Their shared sense of royal duty and easy companionship lead them to secretly marry, but Elizabeth's pregnancy threatens to expose their union as war menaces Europe. Domestic life in a frigid Holland serves as compelling backdrop to this restrained, leisurely novel, in which theological and political questions are as thoroughly dealt with as romantic matters (Pelagius attempts to reconcile Protestantism and the religious practices of Africa, and Elizabeth monitors her sons' fortunes in England under her brother, King Charles I). Stevenson's pacing can be slow and uneven, but the cool glow the story sheds-like a Jan van Eyck painting-exerts a powerful attraction. (Nov.) Forecast: This is the first in a projected historical trilogy, a promising if quiet start that might be recommended to readers who enjoyed Arthur Japin's The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Exiled in 17th-century Amsterdam, Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of England's King Charles I and widow of the dethroned Elector Palatine, spends her days in an agony of rumor and worried uncertainty about her children, who are scattered across Europe. Pelagius van Overmeer, ex-slave and formerly a prince of the Yoruba tribe of Oyo, comes to her attention as a learned and pious man whose arcane skill as a seer may give assurance of her sons' safety. Aside from such insights, Pelagius gives Elizabeth his companionship and his love, and when they secretly marry, he is installed in Elizabeth's household. History mentions no royal prince of Africa, no slave lover, and no black physician in the life of the Winter Queen, but readers will be glad to believe that Pelagius existed for her as they read this well-crafted, moody portrait of royal striving and human need. While this novel is not as thickly plotted as Dorothy Dunnett's masterly Niccolo series, fans of Dunnett will enjoy Stevenson's (London Bridges) complex characterization and marvelous rendering of the dark ambiance of the Dutch Golden Age. Readers will be impatient for the second book in a projected trilogy so that they can find out what will happen to the secret harbored in Middleburg. Highly recommended for most fiction collections.-Jennifer Baker, Seattle P.L (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.