The Empress of the Last Days

Overview

This is a novel of many pleasures: a passionate and tender interracial love story that is also an fascinating scholarly detective tale. A young Oxford don named Michael Foxwist and a group of his academic friends come upon a collection of dusty old documents; they are intrigued to learn of the clandestine seventeenth-century marriage of the black prince, Pelagius, and Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia. With mounting excitement, they discover that the true queen of England may not be the familiarly dowdy elderly woman of...
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Overview

This is a novel of many pleasures: a passionate and tender interracial love story that is also an fascinating scholarly detective tale. A young Oxford don named Michael Foxwist and a group of his academic friends come upon a collection of dusty old documents; they are intrigued to learn of the clandestine seventeenth-century marriage of the black prince, Pelagius, and Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia. With mounting excitement, they discover that the true queen of England may not be the familiarly dowdy elderly woman of German extraction but a young and gifted black scientist of independent mind. She lives in Barbados and is the last living descendant of Elizabeth and Pelagius. Michael confronts her with her heritage only to find that she refuses to be the child of destiny and insists on being herself. But their meeting changes everything -- they fall in love. Of different race, nationality, and temperament, they must reexamine all their assumptions and the terms on which they live.
Though written to be read independently, The Empress of the Last Days is also the triumphant conclusion to Jane Stevenson's acclaimed historical trilogy, companion to The Winter Queen and The Shadow King. Often compared to such writers as Penelope Fitzgerald and A. S. Byatt, Stevenson once again gives us a splendid work of rich imagination, lively erudition, warm humanity, and wit.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stevenson makes a daring leap from 17th-century Europe to the present in this strong final volume of her trilogy (The Winter Queen; The Shadow King), framing the tumultuous past with a surprisingly passionate tale of modern academic scholarship. Historical research shakes off all mustiness as the investigations of Michael Foxwist, a young don at Oxford, lead him to an amazing discovery: a secret marriage between Elizabeth of Bohemia and a former African prince named Pelagius. This is the story told in Stevenson's previous two volumes, and it takes a surprising turn when Michael comes to the conclusion that the descendant of this union would be the rightful monarch of England. Even more shockingly, the true queen turns out to be a young black scientist living in Barbados named Melpomene Palaeologue. On an impetuous trip to Barbados to meet Melita, as she is known, Michael finds she captures more than his intellectual curiosity. Solid historical knowledge enlivened by restrained but genuine emotion render this dense novel of ideas an unexpected page-turner. Agent, Joy Harris. (Nov. 3) Forecast: Many novels are compared to A.S. Byatt's Possession, but this comes closer than most, while retaining its own voice. Booksellers can confidently recommend it to fans of academic-world romance and intrigue. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In the conclusion to Stevenson's acclaimed trilogy, Michael Foxtwist is a frustrated Oxford don who stumbles upon the secret 17th-century marriage of Elizabeth of Bohemia and Pelagius, an African prince (as recounted in The Winter Queen and The Shadow King). Slowly, he realizes that their descendants may still be living in modern-day Barbados. He travels there to find that the heir to the throne, a young black female botany professor, is not only unlike anyone he's ever met but also may very well be the love of his life. The real revelation here, however, is not the discovery of the "empress of the last days" but rather Michael's transformation from a rather lonely stuffed shirt to someone who realizes that the world is full of beauty and wonder that can be found in the most unexpected places. Unlike its predecessors, this is a historical novel only in the sense that it is about people who do history. Stevenson's descriptions of modern academic life are absolutely spot on and critical without being cruel or condescending. A truly wonderful book and a fitting end to a fabulous trilogy; highly recommended for most libraries.-Wendy Bethel, Southwest P.L., Columbus, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Last in an ambitious trilogy about a queen and a former slave fast-forwards to the present: here, a newly discovered cache of documents suggests that a black Barbadian woman may be the true queen of England. Deftly mixing scholarship and history, Stevenson (The Winter Queen, 2002; The Shadow King, 2003) creates a tale rich in ironies and send-ups of academic intransigence as she continues the story of Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of Charles I of England. In exile in Holland, in 1639, Elizabeth married Pelagius, a freed but once-enslaved African prince, and the next year, she gave birth to a son, Balthasar. Now, in present-day Holland, historian Corinne is having trouble not only with her department head but also with finishing her dissertation, not to mention worries that she may not get a teaching job. In England, Michael is teaching English at Oxford but is bored as well, and tired of college politics. He and Corinne once dated, so when she's alerted to the discovery of 17th-century documents that include a copy of a play by Aphra Behn, the first British woman playwright, she contacts Michael. Interested, Michael visits her in Holland, carries off the relevant documents, and is soon as absorbed as Corinne in the story of Elizabeth and Pelagius. He learns that the couple's son lived in London, visited Barbados, and wrote a botanical treatise, and that their grandson, Theodore Stuart, married Godscall Palaeologue, the daughter of the last heir to the Byzantine throne. The Palaeologues settled in Barbados, and Michael now discovers that a Dr. Palaeologue is teaching at the university there. While Corinne fights on in academia, Michael heads for Barbados. There, the doctor turns outto be a comely young black woman called Melita, who warms more to Michael than to the notion that she is the true heir-a Stuart, not a Windsor-to the British throne in fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. Agreeable historical fiction that both informs and entertains.Agent: Pat Kavanagh/PFD
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781587249297
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 4/7/2005
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 564
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

JANE STEVENSON was born in London and brought up in London, Beijing, and Bonn. She teaches literature and history at the University of Aberdeen. She is the author of Several Deceptions, a collection of four novellas; a novel, London Bridges; and the acclaimed historical trilogy made up of the novels The Winter Queen, The Shadow King, and The Empress of the Last Days. Stevenson lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
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Table of Contents

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