Finely nuanced historical, the first in a trilogy, from Britisher Stevenson (London Bridges, 2001, etc.): a fanciful yet credible and touching tale about the Queen of Bohemia and an African prince.
Holland in the 17th century is one of the busiest hives in Europe, attracting merchants, scholars, adventurers, and artists from Europe and beyond. A Calvinist stronghold struggling for independence from Catholic Spain, it attracts a goodly number of Protestant refugees during the Thirty Years War (1618–48). One of these is the “Winter Queen,” Elizabeth of Bohemia, who with her husband (the Elector of Palatine) flees the Catholic forces that have prevailed in her native land. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth settles into a threadbare widowhood, scrounging funds from princes and relations, attempting to marry off her daughters, and dreaming of raising an army that can restore her to the throne. Romance is far from uppermost in the thoughts of this mature and hardheaded stateswoman, and it comes as a surprise to her to find how easily she falls in love with the theology student Pelagius van Overmeer. The surprise is fully justified, for Pelagius is, in fact, an African prince (named Omoluju before his conversion and baptism) who came to Europe as a slave, won his freedom, and turned to scholarship. Highly educated and fluent in Yoruba, Dutch, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, Pelagius is training to become a minister, and his erudition and wit have made him something of a celebrity in Amsterdam. He and Elizabeth are secretly married and have a son, Balthasar, who is kept in hiding for fear of scandal. Secret marriages rarely turn out well, and secret births bring even greater difficulties. Can Elizabeth and Pelagius find peace together? In a continent being torn by one of history’s bloodiest wars, it may be too much to ask.
A bright and engaging portrait of private lives rendered against a broad and vivid canvas of human history.