The Queen’s Fortune: A Novel of Desiree, Napoleon, and the Dynasty That Outlasted the Empire

Ballantine. Feb. 2020. 448p. ISBN 9780593128183. $28. F
Desiree Clary conducts a torrid love affair with Napoleon Bonaparte at the start of the French Revolution. However, his wandering eye quickly fixes on the alluring Josephine, and Desiree is left abandoned and heartbroken. Meanwhile, her beloved sister Julie marries Napoleon’s brother Joseph, and the extended family frequently spends time together—not the most comfortable situation for Desiree. Fortunately, she finds solace with the handsome Bernadotte, a rising star in the French army. His clashes with Napoleon don’t prevent him from being named heir to the throne of Sweden, giving Desiree a crown she never imagined she’d wear. Their descendants rule Sweden to this day. Pataki (The Traitor’s Wife) successfully creates believable settings and relationships, and carefully manages regular time jumps as she tells Desiree’s story over the decades. VERDICT Breathing life into historic figures can be challenging, and Pataki does a solid job of showcasing a remarkable woman. Desiree’s proximity to Napoleon and her place on the European royal stage will attract readers who enjoy historical fiction by Alison Weir or Stephanie Dray. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/19.].Phillips, Arthur. The King at the Edge of the World. Random. Feb. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9780812995480. $27. FIn 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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