Debut author Swan explores the legend of the ghost known as the White Lady in a story that mixes historical fact and fiction.
In 13th-century Germany, 29-year-old Countess Cunigunde von Orlamunde is already a widowed mother of two, having wed at 16 a man who died at 55. She enjoys a brief liaison with the burgrave Albert the Handsome, but his parents oppose the match. The distraught countess takes to her bed with her feverish sons. When they die, she’s accused of murder, walled up in a castle dungeon and left to die of hunger and thirst. In subsequent years, members of the House of Hohenzollern witness her ghostly image—a walking, maggot-ridden corpse that they perceive as an omen of impending death. In 1701 Berlin, precocious young Frederick William conducts an informal expedition to find the White Lady’s remains and bury them, but she continues to haunt the family until 1914. The book is an imaginative look at royals’ behind-the-scenes behavior, replete with infighting, jealousy, insults and abuse. It presents a series of vignettes depicting royal family life; for example, at one point, Lt.-Gen. Prince Louis Ferdinand’s mother encourages him to join the army, noting that his death would please both his parents. It also examines the circumstances surrounding the White Lady’s spectral appearances, offering plausible conjecture on why the countess wasn’t at rest. Although she’s a terrifying apparition to sentries (they often faint or flee) and the public at large, she doesn’t frighten on the page, although some may shiver at the supernatural passages. The book has much to say about the long-term effects of cruelty and the blessing of forgiveness. In structure and scope, however, it lacks the sweep and emotional impact of in-depth historical fiction. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, has a brief cameo near story’s end, but it adds little to an otherwise lively narrative.
An entertaining chronology of an infamous ghost and her interactions with European royalty through the centuries.