BLURB: “On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the palace prepares a sumptuous display of riches. But in Skyggehavn, things are rarely as they seem. Beneath the veneer of celebration, a mysterious illness plagues the royal family, and one courtier’s power-lust will set a devious plot in motion.”
REVIEW: This book is a complex and remarkable tale combining history, fantasy, passion and intrigue within the kingdom of Skyggehavn, a land in which the royal family are finding themselves slowly dying away and being plunged deeper and deeper into mystery and scandal. The book mostly follows two women, although a variety of characters get their own chapters in order to have their say, which adds to the depth of the novel. These two protagonists, however, are the main focus of the tale, and despite their dislike of each other they form an unlikely alliance as they become entangled in the plots and treasons that surround the throne. Ava Bingen is the first of the women that we meet; she is a young seamstress to the Queen who finds herself in a great deal of trouble after accidentally stabbing the Queen with a needle on the night of the Princess’ wedding. Forced to become an unwilling spy and treated like a whore by the ambitious Nicolas in order to save her own life, Ava finds herself far deeper in the court web of intrigue than she would like, particularly when she is placed in the royal nursey, caring for the four youngest royal children, all of whom have an unknown and possibly deadly disease. The other woman involved in the story is Midi, a black woman who is unable to speak after an injury inflicted on her tongue by a jealous mistress. Seen as exotic and craved by many of the men of the court, Midi also works in the nursery, tending to the royal children, and both women become caught up in relationships with the eager court historian, Arthur Grammaticus. The intense rivalry between them, mostly stemming from Midi, is forced to dissipate when King Christian dies suspiciously whilst his Queen, the mad Isabel, is still pregnant with a possible son and heir. Ava and Midi end up in the thick of the scandal as Isabel’s most trusted maids, and are forced to take drastic steps to ensure the survival of the Queen and their own safety. This book is so gripping, brilliantly written and absolutely fascinating – definitely a contender for top place in the Top Ten Books of the Year list I will be publishing at the end of 2016. The twists and turns the novel takes, taking the reader to ever darker and more mysterious places, are truly unbelievable, and I left the book with the sense that no matter what I read next it couldn’t quite match up to the standard of this fantastic work of fiction.