The shadow king /
Jane Stevenson.
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
viii, 303 p. : maps ; 22 cm.
More Details
uniform title
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
general note
Originally published: London : Jonathan Cape, 2002.
Sequel to: The winter queen.
catalogue key
A Look Inside
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Excerpt from Book
I The mechanisms of our bodies are composed of strings, threads, beams, levers, cloth, flowing fluids, cisterns, ducts, filters, sieves, and other similar mechanisms. Through studying these parts with the help of Anatomy, Philosophy and Mechanics, man has discovered their structure and function . . . With this and the help of discourse, he apprehends the way nature acts and he lays the foundation of Physiology, Pathology, and eventually the art of Medicine. Marcello Malpighi, De Polypo Cordis (1666) February 1662 'And now we come to the heart of the mystery, gentlemen. Come forward a little, it is a sight you will seldom have an opportunity to see.'Delicately he traced the swollen, ripening curve with his forceps, as they all obediently craned their necks. 'About three months gravid, I should say. She should have pleaded her belly, poor wretch. But perhaps she did not know the signs.'Putting down the forceps which he had been using as a pointer since laying aside the mass of the intestines, he picked up a scalpel, and began to cut. The thin, cold winter sun lanced down on the table, which was positioned to catch the best possible light. The room was completely silent, except for the precise, tearing sound of the blade sawing through tough muscle. Balthasar leaned forward with the others, sweating with sickly fascination, breathing shallowly through his mouth. The meaty stink exhaling from the opened body was an almost solid thing, though the girl had been dead only forty-eight hours. Even though he was avoiding breathing through his nose, it seemed to have coated his whole mouth and throat with a layer of impalpable foulness. Incense burned in the room, but the delicate, musky sweetness only intensified the horror of the stench. The sight before him was profoundly disturbing for a young man who had never before in his life seen a naked woman. The neck was of course damaged by the garotte, but since they were clustered about the lower part of the cadaver and the head was turned away from them it was not visible; he could only see the line of the cheekbone. The upper part of her body was pretty. She was very slight, bluish-white and waxen in death, with pale, maidenly nubbins of breasts that suggested extreme youth; if he had met her, perhaps carrying a pile of linen or a basket of eggs, he would have flirted with her, sought a glimpse of those little breasts now so pitilessly bare to his gaze. Yet the moment his eye strayed below the waist, he could no longer even think of the body as human, it was something worse than butcher's meat. The abdomen gaped open, omentum and bowels laid to one side to display the womb, like a terrible red egg in the nest of the pelvis. Both legs had been sawn away just below the point where they met the torso. The ends were dry and shiny like mahogany, with gleaming rings of paler fat and ivory bone, and between the great dark-red meaty ovals, her shameful parts were obscenely exposed in all their meagreness, adorned with a little tuft of blonde hair. He kept looking at her sex and away again, revolted and excited, and knew that his fellow students were doing the same. It was impossible for him to associate the dry and abject tags of flesh that he could see with what he had touched in his occasional fumblings beneath the skirts of whores, which had seemed, at the time, a slippery pit fit to swallow the world. Is this how all women are made? he wondered sickly, but was distracted from this train of thought by Professor van Horne. Pinning back the two halves of the womb, now completely sectioned, he reached into it with the forceps, and brought forth a pale homunculus attached to a long, bluish cord. 'A male, I believe,'he
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2003-10-15:
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.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2003-09-01:
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
Review Quotes
"Stevenson engagingly illuminates a pivotal era of history . . . Stevenson's historical novels are models of the genre." Publishers Weekly
"Stevenson engagingly illuminates a pivotal era of history . . . Stevenson's historical novels are models of the genre."
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Publishers Weekly, September 2003
Library Journal, October 2003
Booklist, November 2003
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Main Description
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.
Main Description
In the second volume of Stevenson's masterly trilogy, Balthasar--son of Elizabeth of Bohemia and Pelagius, an African prince--is driven out of Holland by the plague. Now a young doctor, he makes his way first to the raffish, cynical world of Restoration London and then to Barbados, a land of slavery and savage racism.

This information is provided by a service that aggregates data from review sources and other sources that are often consulted by libraries, and readers. The University does not edit this information and merely includes it as a convenience for users. It does not warrant that reviews are accurate. As with any review users should approach reviews critically and where deemed necessary should consult multiple review sources. Any concerns or questions about particular reviews should be directed to the reviewer and/or publisher.

  link to old catalogue

Report a problem