The Empress of the Last Days

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Corinne Hoyers’s academic career seems stuck before it can get properly underway. Working part-time at a software company, she despairs of finding either time or an important enough project to earn her major professor’s approval and her PhD. When a Middelburg Trust officer asks her to evaluate a hoard of moldy old papers, she agrees reluctantly, fearing just another time-wasting obstacle. Still, the project does fit into her book history specialty, and it will only take a few days.

The papers change her life. Among them are important discoveries--a theological treatise by Pelagius von Overmeer, a former slave, a hitherto unknown play by Aphra Behn, and some love letters from Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of James I of England. For expert help, she calls on her friends Michael Foxwist, an Oxford don. The really explosive find, however, only comes when Michael reaches inside a battered old diary and pulls out two documents--record of Elizabeth’s and Pelagius’ marriage, and the birth certificate for their son Balthasar, dated a year later.

This discovery fuels Michael’s curiosity. Wouldn’t it be ironic if indeed these proofs signal an alternate line of royal heritage, one whose claims outweigh those of the imported Hanoverian dynasty which now rules Britain? His dotty old great- uncle’s hobbyhorse is restoration of the Stuart line. Although Michael thinks Uncle Harold is crazy, the old man’s ideas spark some further research. Michael pursues the puzzle in archives and galleries, and ultimately by going to Barbados to find the last Stuart heir. At that point, all Michael’s expectations turn upside down.

Ranging through history and prophecies as it does, The Empress of the Last Days appeals to anyone interested in the unknowns of history. Its pacing is somewhat deliberate and thoughtful; its pleasures are more speculative than startling. The major characters--of past and present--come fully to life. The background of Dutch colonial history and academic life are rare treats for an Anglo-American audience. In this book, the third of a linked trilogy, Jane Stevenson has given readers an intriguing study of one of history’s "might have beens."