Cover image for The shadow king
The shadow king
Stevenson, Jane, 1959-
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Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

Physical Description:
viii, 303 pages : maps ; 22 cm
General Note:
Sequel to: The winter queen.

Originally published: London : Jonathan Cape, 2002.
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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.

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 3

Booklist Review

Stevenson provides the second installment of the historical trilogy she began with The Winter Queen (2002). Balthasar Stuart is the son produced by a passionate love affair between Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia and Pelagius van Overmeer, an African prince brought to Europe as a slave. Raised in relative anonymity in Holland, Balthasar pursues a career as a physician until political circumstances and the onset of a plague drive him out of Holland to Restoration London. When he has the opportunity to marry an impoverished gentlewoman who has inherited property in Barbados, he does so, intrigued by the possibility of a new life in the Caribbean. Once in Barbados, however, a racially segregated society dependent on slave labor, he is even further torn between his European and African heritages. After surviving a slave revolt and a hurricane, Balthasar and his family return to a London beset by intrigue and turmoil, as discontent with the Catholicingames--Balthasar's cousin--grows deeper. Stevenson artfully sets the stage for a thrilling conclusion to an epic steeped in vivid seventeenth-century social, political, and cultural detail. --Margaret Flanagan Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Holland, London and Barbados in the 17th century are the striking backdrops for Stevenson's strong sequel to her praised The Winter Queen. Here the protagonist is Balthasar, the son of the queen of Bohemia (sister to Britain's late King Charles I) and the queen's secret husband, Pelagius, a prince of the West African nation of Oyo. Having completed his medical studies in Leiden, Balthasar returns to Zeeland to establish his practice. Circumstances involve him with Aphra Behn, the so-called first feminist writer. Unhappily married to a Dutchman, she is a spy for England; she steals the papers that certify Balthasar's royal birth. A decade later, after the plague has decimated Europe, Balthasar moves to Restoration England, where he marries a servant woman, Sibella. Her family roots are gentry, and her father has willed her property in Barbados, so the newlyweds settle in the Caribbean. The novel acquires new historical interest and narrative drama as Stevenson portrays the island's slave culture, where Balthasar's mulatto coloring becomes especially ironic, especially in light of the fact that he must buy slaves in order to survive. The couple endure three years of torrid heat, invasive insects, social humiliation and, finally, a slave uprising, before they decide to return home to England. There Balthasar's life intersects with Behn's again. Stevenson's remarkable knowledge of 17th-century history, culture, religious bigotry and political turmoil is gracefully communicated. Colorful tidbits-both virtuous ladies and courtesans regularly wear vizards (masks) in public, for example-enliven the text. In depicting Balthasar's anomalous position as a black man in white society, and a descendant of royal blood who lives as a commoner, Stevenson engagingly illuminates a pivotal era of history. (Nov. 3) Forecast: Stevenson's historical novels are models of the genre, a boon to indie booksellers looking for quality. Another selling point: the publisher promises the concluding work in this trilogy in 2004. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This richly textured and complex sequel to The Winter Queen follows the career of Balthasar van Overmeer, a Leiden-trained physician in 17th-century Holland and the half-black son of exiled Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, and her clandestine African husband, Pelagius. After his father's death, young Balthasar, concealing his true identity, continues to lead a modest life in the care of two family servants. An arranged marriage eventually carries him to Barbados where his wife hopes to claim her inheritance and raise their prospects. The brutality of plantation society and the climate drive them back to Europe, ultimately to London where they settle into a comfortable middle-class life with their two children. But all around them society roils in a stew of political infighting, social intrigue, and the struggles of a top-heavy society in which the rich exploit the poor and where violence and disease are commonplace. As nephew to King Charles, Balthasar is close enough to the crown to be endangered if his identity is revealed, and suspicions are rife. This second volume of Stevenson's projected trilogy surpasses the first in richly drawn characters, plot complexity, and historic detail. Readers will be on tenterhooks to find out what happens next. Highly recommended.-Jennifer S. Baker, Seattle P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.