The King at the Edge of the World

Arthur Phillips. Random House, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9548-0
All the world’s a stage, and spies are the most committed players, in Philipp’s winning latest (after The Tragedy of Arthur). In 1591, a Turkish doctor, Mahmoud Ezzedine, accompanies a diplomatic Ottoman mission to Queen Elizabeth’s court in England, a “far-off, sunless, primitive, sodden, heathen kingdom at the far cliffside edge of the civilized earth.” A guileless scholar surrounded by schemers, he becomes the queen’s pawn. A decade later, a spy and actor named Geoffrey Belloc recruits the doctor—still languishing in England and having outwardly converted to Christianity—to befriend the “canny James the Scot,” the heir to the throne who many in Elizabeth’s Protestant court fear is secretly Catholic. Ezzedine agrees to engage James in a discussion of theology to determine the future monarch’s true religious allegiance, while Belloc schemes a dastardly alternative to the plan Ezzedine agrees to. So begins a chess game, literal and figurative, in which the doctor, having infiltrated the Scotsman’s Edinburgh circle, attempts to discern James’s true faith through increasingly drastic, and potentially fatal, means. While the expository dialogue occasionally feels stilted, Phillips masterfully renders the period and packs the narrative with surprising twists. This clever, serpentine novel recalls the historical dramas of Hilary Mantel and the thrillers of John le Carré, and will reverberate in readers’ minds. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 12/10/2019
Release date: 02/11/2020
Genre: Fiction
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