The King at the Edge of the World

Ballantine. Feb. 2020. ISBN 9780812995480. $27. FICTION
In the twilight of Queen Elizabeth’s long reign, the court is abuzz with concern about the succession. The queen’s handlers are especially determined to find out whether the heir apparent, James VI of Scotland, is a Protestant. Or is he really a Catholic at heart who will try to reestablish the “truth faith” once upon the throne, with all the mayhem that would entail for Britain? Enter Matthew Thatcher, alias Mahmoud Ezzedine, a physician from the sultan of Constantinople attending to the ailing queen and left behind when his fellow diplomats departed. Through the machinations of influential members of the court, Thatcher is eventually sent north to discover James’s true faith, which he does by drawing on his vast knowledge of medicinal remedies when treating the king.
VERDICT The indefatigably imaginative Phillips, whose works range from Prague, about Budapest, to The Tragedy of Arthur, which contains a Shakespearean play written by Phillips, offers historical fiction with aching contemporary overtones. Highly recommended, especially for those knowledgeable about the period and for anyone who enjoys a truly original yarn. [See Prepub Alert, 7/21/19.]

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