Andre Norton &
Rosemary Edghill,
The Shadow of Albion:
Carolus Rex Book I

(Tor, 1999)

Two great ladies of writing team up for this ride through alternate history combined with elements of high fantasy. Andre Norton and Rosemary Edghill have created a plausible history for their world, where James II, a Catholic, did not ascend to the British throne after Charles II, but instead an illegitimate son was declared legal by virtue of a secret marriage. America remains a colony, and the United States is never formed. This act continues the Stuart line into the year 1805, when the action of the book takes place.

Witchcraft is still alive in this world, and the dangerous and capricious Fair Folk are still concerned for their lands. Sarah, Marchioness of Roxbury, is dying of consumption, and at the behest of another witch, uses magic to draw her double from an alternate universe. This double is Sarah Cunningham, late of Baltimore, Maryland. Sarah Cunningham is drugged and made to believe she is Sarah of Roxbury, and that the United States never existed.

Enter the Duke of Wessex, who has been affianced to the Marchioness of Roxbury. Wessex is a spy for the English throne, causing trouble and intriguing against Napoleon and France. Embroiled in conspiracy, he is less than thrilled with the idea of marrying Sarah so quickly, even when his own grandmother and the king insist upon it. Still, once the two are wed, even more troubles ensue.

The adventure runs through England and France with a side trip to Denmark. Politics affects everything, and Wessex and Sarah meet with an amazing number of people, from a lost princess and a found king, to the Marquis de Sade and Talleyrand. The Fair Folk also get involved, with suitably mysterious pronouncements that explain nothing.

Once I began reading, I found it difficult to put the book down. Despite their charm, I did get a bit annoyed with both Sarah and Wessex, since simply talking to each other could have solved many of their problems. Still, the history is interesting, the conspiracies convoluted and the characters sympathetic. It seems to be the start of a series, and I hope that Edghill and Norton continue this partnership.

[ by Beth Derochea ]



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