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Jul 31, 2012

The Shadow Queen: A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Rebecca Dean

An intriguing look at an eccentric character of history
The Shadow Queen: A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Rebecca Dean
Crown Publishing; August 14, 2012
Review copy from publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Two lovers. Two very different lives. One future together that will change history.

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.
After seeing the movie Wallis and Edward 2005 movie (Joely Richardson = uber-tastic!), I was intrigued by this woman and the romance that rocked the monarchy. How freaking awesome is it that you can snag a king, and have him love you SO much that he will walk away from the throne for you?? Henry VIII wishy-washiness this is not. This is True Love. Of course, Brits may not think it so romantic, but hey, I'm a Texan.

The novel brings us the dramatized story of Wallis Simpson before she was a Simpson. She was born Bessie Wallis Warfield and the novel opens up to her coming into this world. The author re-imagines Wallis' life and creates fictional characters as well as fictionalizing the historical characters of Wallis' life. We go through her childhood and her schooling days, learning of her family and her eccentric mom Alice. Uncle Sol holds the purse strings, and high society is a stone's throw away with the help of Uncle Sol. A major character and driving force of Wallis herself were the fictionalized characters of John Jasper and Pamela Denby. These were major players in the novel, and since they are fictional this should give you an idea of how much this novel relies on historical accuracy.

There are rumors surrounding Wallis and her sex life, and they are given an adequate representation here. As a fictional story I appreciated the author's representation of Wallis in her novel, but I will be looking for the facts elsewhere such as with The Windsor Story. There were several eye rolling moments with descriptions of Wallis, but not enough to make me not enjoy the story.

While hearing enough of the physical descriptions of Wallis, I loved the characterization of Wallis, as her enthusiasm and joie de vivre was evident and well portrayed. Just looking at an older photo of Wallis, we really can imagine the exuberance and vitality of a young lady, and the author captures the spirit of the photo shown through her telling of Wallis' early years. Soon enough, Wallis is married - but not to the royal guy we are eager for her to meet. She marries an aviator.. and that doesn't work out so well.. she goes to China.. she marries again.. and we reach the end of the story and finally the one dream that Wallis holds on to actually occurs.

Wallis constantly thinks of Prince Edward throughout the novel, and doesn't have many chances to meet him. She doesn't become the Duchess of Windsor in the novel, which is a source of disappointment since we were expecting the juicy tidbits of the love between the two. Instead, we are sort of left wanting more once the book ends. Turns out, there is a sequel in the works. Oh. I wish I knew that beforehand, because there is nothing that I hate more than reading 400+ pages and still not getting to finish the story. When that sequel comes out, I will read it so that I can finish Wallis' story which I thought I was getting in the first place.

For this novel as a whole, there was still a bit of a feeling of being on the outside looking in when important things were going on in the world such as the war, and the Great Depression never really seemed to happen at all in the novel. Apparently it didn't affect Wallis at all. The China event barely happened either, and it would have been nice to feel a little more attached to Wallis although I certainly was able to admire her tenacity and drive. Rebecca Dean has a writing style that captivates, while it embraces the era. The Shadow Queen title should not have been used in this telling as it sets you up for disappointment, but it is still an intriguing fictional perspective at the woman she was before she met a King.

The author has written 37 novels according to her website under pennames Margaret Pemberton and Maggie Hudson, and four under Rebecca Dean. Read my review of  Palace Circle here.