Paperback, 448 pages
Expected publication: August 14th 2012 by Broadway
(first published May 10th 2012)
From the publisher:
When debutante Wallis Simpson is growing up, she devotes her teenage daydreams to one man, the future King of England, Prince Edward. But it's Pamela Holtby, Wallis's aristocratic best friend, who mixes within the palace circle. Wallis's first marriage to a dashing young naval pilot is not what she dreamt of; he turns out to be a dominating bully of a man, who punishes her relentlessly. But her fated marriage does open a suprising door, to the world of Navy couriers – where navy wives are being used to transport messages around the world. This interesting turn of fate takes Wallis from the exuberant social scene in Washington to a China that is just emerging from civil war. Edward in the meantime is busy fulfilling his royal duties – and some extra-curricular ones involving married women. Until the day, just before he ascends the throne as Edward VIII, he is introduced to a very special married woman, Wallis Simpson.
Was Wallis Simpson really the monster the royal family perported her to be? Or was she an extraordinary woman who led an unimaginable life? A dramatic novel, that crosses continents and provides a unique insight into one of history’s most charismatic and multi-faceted women.
My thoughts: The Shadow Queen weaves fiction and fact together to present Wallis's life up to 1931. It was not until January of 1936 that Prince Edward succeeded his father to the throne and then abdicated in December of the same year. Dean's story explains how Wallis even got into these exalted circles after becoming friends at a young age with Pamela Denby, a young British aristocrat. Pamela would become both best friend and almost an enemy at different points in Wallis's life.
I'm not too sure I would call Wallis charismatic but obviously she had some kind of charm to get as far as she did. In the book, to me, she came across as snobbish, manipulative and always had her eye to the main chance. From all the things I've read about her and Prince Edward, frankly, I don't think I would have liked them in real life.
The most interesting part of the book was the time frame and Dean did a wonderful job of bringing that alive.
From good times with debutante balls to an abusive marriage through war time, Dean covers it all with expertise, perfectly setting the tone of the day. I had no idea Wallis was once a courier for the Navy and ended up in Shanghai. I found all these historical bits intriguing.
There has been a lot of questions about Wallis's sexuality. Why? I don't know but be sure to read the author's note on this. Although I could put the book down easily, it's still an enjoyable and enlightening read. 3***
Rebecca Dean is also the author of Palace Circle ( a book I just loved) and The Golden Prince.
Disclosure: A review copy of the book was provided by Henry Holt in exchange for my honest opinion.