Stevenson, Jane The Pretender

ISBN 13: 9780099286660

The Pretender

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9780099286660: The Pretender

The sequel to Astraea, The Pretender is the second part of Jane Stevenson's trilogy. Balthasar van Overmeer is the son of the secret marriage between Eliabeth of Bohemia, daughter of James I, and an exiled African prince. We see him first as a young medical student in Holland, then as a doctor in Middleburg, where he becomes involved with Aphra Behn, an English intelligence agent and later a playwright, in Restoration London and in the developing colonial society of Barbados. As he matures he is forced to come to terms with his peculiar upbringing and to explore his strange and powerful heritage, both black and white.

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Review:

The Pretender is the second book in Jane Stevenson's trilogy which began with Astraea, the story of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia (daughter of James I) and her secret marriage to an exiled African prince. While The Pretender continues the theme of 17th- century royal and political intrigue, Elizabeth and her prince are now dead and the couple's only son, Balthazar, is making his living as a doctor, an early surgeon in fact, in a world well removed from the court. Having been brought up in secrecy by his father in Holland, Balthazar the "mulatto" met his mother, briefly, only once. His adult life was to be lived without family and without any real sense of identity. Neither black nor white, reared not as a royal of either European or African descent, Balthazar is forced to confront his unique heritage alone and forge his way in an unstable world where disease and deceit wait at every turn.

After completing his medical training and working in his home town, Balthazar moves to London, keen to make his way in his mother's world. Here, influenced by two very different people, he decides to try and make a new life in Barbados. Before leaving Holland, Balthazar is introduced to Aphra Behn, singular for her time both as a female novelist and playwright but also as an English intelligence agent. The chance encounter leaves a lifelong mark on the rigorously honest and decent doctor. This intriguing, unusual book is crammed with fascinating detail about the everyday lives of 17th-century men and women. Reading such carefully structured prose, modestly oozing intelligence, clarity and insight on every page, reveals more than many a history book on the Restoration period. Stevenson has left no stone unturned in her coverage of every facet of life in the 1600s from local dialects to medical practices, from fashions to culinary preparations. Neither has she stinted in her meticulous research into the wider issues of the day: religion, politics, class, and the historical significance of the rise of sugar cane and the impact of the slave trade in the West Indies. Jane Stevenson is a writer of immense talent and The Pretender is not only a superb sequel to Astraea, but a book easily strong enough to stand on its own.--Carey Green

Review:

‘Jane Stevenson is a writer of formidable ability’ -- Sunday Telegraph

‘The Pretender represents a vital return to the tradition of the historical novel’ -- Times Literary Supplement

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