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The Winter Queen Paperback – November 3, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The chilly scenery of 17th-century Holland is on display in this curious novel by Stevenson (Several Deceptions; London Bridges), as viewed from the unusual perspective of a former African prince and freed slave. Pelagius van Overmeer begins his life in the Low Countries as a theology student, freed by his master, Comrij, after 20 years of servitude in the East Indies. His studies are interrupted when Comrij calls him to The Hague, where they labor on a catalogue of the plants of the East. Just as Pelagius is about to despair of ever being truly free, he finds himself alone once more, with money in his pocket and a promising career as a seer. An introduction to the exiled Elizabeth of Bohemia, or the Winter Queen, as she is called, truly transforms Pelagius's life. Elizabeth, a widow and mother of 10 children, is well into her 40s but still shrewd and hearty; Pelagius, in his 40s, too, is more reserved and mindful of his ambiguous position. Their shared sense of royal duty and easy companionship lead them to secretly marry, but Elizabeth's pregnancy threatens to expose their union as war menaces Europe. Domestic life in a frigid Holland serves as compelling backdrop to this restrained, leisurely novel, in which theological and political questions are as thoroughly dealt with as romantic matters (Pelagius attempts to reconcile Protestantism and the religious practices of Africa, and Elizabeth monitors her sons' fortunes in England under her brother, King Charles I). Stevenson's pacing can be slow and uneven, but the cool glow the story sheds-like a Jan van Eyck painting-exerts a powerful attraction.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Exiled in 17th-century Amsterdam, Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of England's King Charles I and widow of the dethroned Elector Palatine, spends her days in an agony of rumor and worried uncertainty about her children, who are scattered across Europe. Pelagius van Overmeer, ex-slave and formerly a prince of the Yoruba tribe of Oyo, comes to her attention as a learned and pious man whose arcane skill as a seer may give assurance of her sons' safety. Aside from such insights, Pelagius gives Elizabeth his companionship and his love, and when they secretly marry, he is installed in Elizabeth's household. History mentions no royal prince of Africa, no slave lover, and no black physician in the life of the Winter Queen, but readers will be glad to believe that Pelagius existed for her as they read this well-crafted, moody portrait of royal striving and human need. While this novel is not as thickly plotted as Dorothy Dunnett's masterly Niccolo series, fans of Dunnett will enjoy Stevenson's (London Bridges) complex characterization and marvelous rendering of the dark ambiance of the Dutch Golden Age. Readers will be impatient for the second book in a projected trilogy so that they can find out what will happen to the secret harbored in Middleburg. Highly recommended for most fiction collections.
Jennifer Baker, Seattle P.L
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (November 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618382674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618382675
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,354,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The quality of Stevenson's scholarship is immediately evident, the substantial historical research key to the author's success. A love story set in 17th C. Holland, the widowed Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, begins a friendship with African prince and former slave, Pelagius van Overmeer, now a Calvinist theologian. As the sister of Charles I and daughter of James I, Elizabeth's primary obligation is the protection of her children's positions, maintaining good relations with the Crown, in the person of Charles I, currently engaged in the Thirty Years War that is tearing the country apart.
For his part, Pelagius is a unique man in this country riddled by war, but also undergoing a cultural renaissance, a resurgence of art and culture. Brought to Europe as a slave, Pelagius achieves his freedom, then dedicates himself to the scholarship of the exotic plants of East Asia and their potential use in the healing arts. An erudite man, Pelagius becomes a seer as well, able to sustain his meager subsistence in this manner.
Receiving some notoriety in his capacity as seer, in which he uses ancient African methods to give godly advice to his patrons, Pelagius first awakens the Queen's interest. Engaging in casual conversation, they discover an affinity for one another, having complementary sympathetic natures. While both approach middle age, they are blindsided by their passion and marry in a clandestine ceremony. Once night falls, they are able to give reign to their mutual affection, free of artifice or pretension. As a precaution, Pelagius poses as Elizabeth's Latin tutor and physician, their secret known only by her ladies-in-waiting. Elizabeth's warmth and good humor act as a catalyst to Pelagius' reserved demeanor, deluging him with unexpected joy.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Stevenson has crafted an interesting novel for those who are interested in history - with unexpected twists. This is fiction laid on top of historical figures and in the case of Elizabeth, The Winter Queen, her lineage and descendants are important. (Elizabeth was the daughter of James I (1566-1625) of England and sister of Charles I, King of England, during the period of the story.) Yet it is difficult to untangle the characters; a Stuart/Hanover family tree would help a great deal. A listing of the characters would also be very useful. The story takes place when Charles I is king of England; Louis XIII is king of France and Philip IV is king of Spain - and the Netherlands is enormously wealthy by virtue of trade. Set in the Netherlands, the novel hinges on Elizabeth's intimate relationship with an African prince, abducted by Portuguese traders and sold into bondage who "ends up" at the Dutch Court. The well-educated Protestant - and African - prince, Pelegius van Overmeer, becomes a confidante of Elizabeth and from their shared loneliness, love blossoms. There's a fair amount of reference to Pelegius's tribal traditions but it is not clear where the Oyo were located - Nigeria? Pelegius is an interesting character and since this is the first book of a trilogy, Stevenson will undoubtedly clarify the complex history of this period and the role these characters play in history in the next two books. At least, the book had me scurrying to the Internet to try to locate more information!! It's very difficult to locate info on the Yoruba tribe ...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kate Stout VINE VOICE on January 31, 2009
Format: Paperback
Having recently read Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier, I picked up this book of historical fiction, which is about Rupert's mother, The Winter Queen, Elizabeth of Bohemia.

The story centers on Pelagius, a former slave who comes to the Netherlands to assist his former master in completing a botanical book. Pelagius is an interesting character - a prince in his former African home, now converted to Christianity, who wants to become a minister. The story actually works quite well until Pelagius meets the Winter Queen, and eventually marries her, in secret.

The book itself has a fine texture of the Netherlands at this time, with lots of good detail about the life of the middling classes. It also shows a good understanding the politics, and the motivations of Elizabeth as she struggles to assist her family in a web of international politics.

But the attraction of Elizabeth to a former slave, and her willingness to marry him are attributed to some prophecies offered up by another minister. It is not told compellingly, and it is hard to imagine this to be plausible. Her subsequent secret pregnancy also seems remarkably unlikely. And these events don't ring true emotionally.

A disappointing story.
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