The second installment of a trilogy, begun with The Winter Queen (2002), follows the fortunes of the son of a Bohemian queen and an African king.
Balthasar Stuart was the only son Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia (a Protestant who was forced to relinquish her throne in the face of a Catholic coup d’etat), and Pelagius van Overmeer (an African king of the Yoruba tribe who came to Europe as a slave). Raised in Holland in secrecy (for fear of assassination), Balthasar barely knew his parents—they died while he was a medical student—and had no interest in politics or court life. But he made the mistake once of admitting his royal origins to Aphra Behn, an ambitious young playwright he had treated for venereal disease. Aphra knew a good story when she heard one, so she broke into Balthasar’s rooms and stole his father’s notebooks, which related the history of his life and contained a copy of his marriage certificate. Balthasar was chagrined, but he had his work to occupy him in Holland—until the plague broke out and killed most of his patients. He then moved to London, a city still reeling from the effects of both the plague and the Great Fire of 1666. In London he made the acquaintance of a naval officer who obtained a post for him in Barbados, where for some years he moved uncomfortably between the black natives and the white colonists. By the time he moved back to England, London was consumed with plots against King James II, who was being booted off the throne on account of his Catholic faith. In the scramble for succession, pretenders were coming forward with far weaker claims to the throne than Balthasar had. Would he be drawn into intrigues of state after all? Not in this volume—but there’s a third on the way.
Shares its predecessor’s historical sweep and color, but the story itself becomes rather formulaic toward the end.