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The King at the Edge of the World

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  305 ratings  ·  87 reviews
"One of the best writers in America" (The Washington Post) delivers a mesmerizing new novel in which Queen Elizabeth's spymasters recruit an unlikely agent for an impossible mission: the only Muslim in England.

The year is 1601. Queen Elizabeth is dying, childless. The nervous kingdom has no heir. It is a capital crime even to think that Elizabeth will ever die. Potential
Hardcover, 266 pages
Published February 11th 2020 by Random House
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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Ron Charles
Centuries from now, when our amphibian descendants look back at this contentious era, they may have trouble understanding what exactly we were arguing about.

I first realized this when I was teaching high school and saw my students struggling to fathom the theological disputes of the Reformation. To most of those smart but unchurched adolescents, the distinction between, say, being saved by grace or saved by works seemed obscure and, in any case, a thin excuse to butcher fellow Christians in the
Feb 09, 2020 marked it as to-read
DNF @ 27%
Really bored. Doesn't hold my interest.
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, netgalley
This may be jumping the gun a bit, but even as I preview The King at the Edge of the World in November of 2019, I feel certain that it will wind up on my "Best Books of 2020" list. The King at the Edge of the World works as historical fiction, but it also works as a novel exploring issues of identity and the myriad possible lives any individual might live.

Mahmoud Ezzedine is a physician on a diplomatic mission from the Ottoman Empire to the England of Elizabeth I. Though technically a free man,
Caidyn (SEMI-HIATUS; BW Reviews; he/him/his)
Thank you Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!


These were my biggest issues with this book:

- Boring.
- Characters were dry.
- Each part changed perspectives to someone new.
- There was no plot.

Overall, it was just really dull and I couldn't care about it. Which is sad because it sounded super good.
Lady Shockley
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Reading a novel by Arthur Phillips is, for me, always an intellectual treat. Although his books purport to be about one thing, subject, or time, it turns out that while one may be set in Victorian England or among Egyptologists hunting for ancient tombs, the plot is merely the lens through which Phillips asks the more important questions: What is true? When does ambition become madness? Why did it happen this way, or did it? In other words, Phillips' novels are deeper than they first appear, and ...more
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Character-driven historical fiction at its best, showing Elizabethan England and King James' Scotland through the eyes of the ultimate outsider, Mahmoud Ezzedine, a doctor from the court of the Ottoman Sultan. Fate has stranded him in a cold, primitive land 'at the edge of the world', a 'gift' passed from royal hand to royal hand, seemingly until he dies. Ezzedine is a deeply humane, complex man, afraid to remember or to forget his true self, while he fashions himself into a Protestant ...more
3.5 stars - It was really good.

He had spent a decade wringing desire and hope from his heart, a treatment as scarring as fire, and only possible in the isolation of Cumberland, where no rumor reached him, where no memory could be triggered by a face or a word, where even the hope of a letter in either direction was ridiculous. Matthew Thatcher had committed the slow murder of hope or, indistinguishably, watched in helpless torments as it committed suicide. But at last it was done. Hope lay at
Penny (Literary Hoarders)
A very interesting premise, but unfortunately a very dry execution.
Nov 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
*I won this book through goodreads' first reads.

I really hate giving up on a book I won through a giveaway, because it's always possible that a weak start can turn in to a fabulous book. And since I'm definitely reviewing a giveaway book I want to give it its best chance. But for this one . . . for the second time ever . . . well . . .

Okay, let's just be blunt. After ten days I'm barely past 100 pages. This book just Could. Not. Hold. My. Attention.

I can't put my finger on why. I love
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Had a lot of travel time this week so I got to really live head-down in this one, which was great funthe story of a Muslim physician from Constantinople stranded in late-16th-century England at the time of Elizabeth I's decline and the potential rise of Scotland's James VI, with the crucial question being whether or not he was a Catholic. The story involves much spying and counter-spying to that effect, and the fact that you know how it endsthat he becomes James I of Englanddoesn't take away ...more
Nancy Gilreath
Dec 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A solid 4.75. The King at the Edge of the World is an erudite, humorous account of intrigue and deception that begs us to recall that what we revere as history represents only one of the possibilities that existed at the time events originally unfolded. The possible outcomes were infinite, so who is to say they couldnt occur? In his new novel, Phillips gives us a wry recounting of the drama caused by the impending death of Elizabeth I and presumed succession of James VI of Scotland. It is up to ...more
Emily Roen
Jan 07, 2020 rated it did not like it
I won an ARC from a Goodreads Giveaway. The beginning was very slow, and I almost stopped reading this book. Once the main storyline picked up as more characters were introduced, the plot became difficult to follow, and the ending was left unresolved (which may or may not have been the whole point of this story).
Melissa Rothman
Feb 27, 2020 rated it did not like it
I won this book in a goodreads giveaway and I was very excited to have won this book im a big history buff not to mention I really enjoy many books based on Queen Elizabeth's life it all truly fascinates me! However I had the hardest time with this book I unfortunately couldn't even make it past the 8th chapter when I realized I had to just DNF it. This really pains me because I usually will always finish a book regardless but that's how unmoved and frustrated I was with this book. It was just ...more
I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did. And I didn't want to empathize with King James I, but I did. I kind of knew what would happen in the end, because it's history, but I still did. Oh, and Mahmoud Ezzedine is a wonderful character. It is his observations that make James I human, and his empathy and warm heart that make the book. I say this even as he did what he did, but I liked him immensely.
Jan 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, giveaways
Inspiration is a cruel and moody mistress and this book is a perfect example of that. Idea is absolutely fabulous, I dare you to read the description and not find it interesting. Execution however is not as good as I would expect it be from "One of the best writers in America" (The Washington Post). There are fragments in this book that are almost perfect and pieces that are almost unreadable. You are swinging up and down, jumping from good parts to really bad ones so frequently that the ...more
Bruce Katz
I'm going back and forth between 4 and 5. It's a really enjoyable book: Playful, smart, a great story, well-plotted... I actually listened to certain chapters a second time after finishing the book to see (hear) if I remembered things right or if I missed something. I did -- a couple of things in fact, and I liked the book even more after learning what I'd missed. Several plot points were deliberately left a little unclear, a feature I really enjoyed but other readers might find frustrating. ...more
Daniel Kukwa
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-lit
This is a game of two halves, and occasionally they seem to operate exclusively of each other -- the spy plot regarding the succession of James I, and the story of Mahmoud Ezzedine: trapped and alone, exiled from Constantinople to Britain. I wish we spent more time with Ezzedine in his exile, for when the book does concentrate on his character, it becomes a tragedy of aching proportions. A tool (a gift, he reminds himself) passed from potentate to potentate...and his reward is ambiguous, ugly ...more
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, I really had to read this one, because you don't often come across a literary novel in which a large part of the plot takes place in Scotland in the court of James VI, soon to become James I of England (I know way too much about James VI). Briefly, the story follows the unwilling involvement of a Turkish doctor in espionage during the political and religious turmoil that beset England and Scotland in the years of Elizabeth I's decline and the anticipation of James's succession to the ...more
Larry Olson
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
A wonderful tale of espionage and theological intrigue set in Elizabethan England. A rare combination of literary finesse and quick-paced plot. I do not know how matters stand among the Mahometans, but sadly, Christian kingdoms hate one another and are divided on how best to show their love for Jesus Christ. How mad, you think, to hate over how best to love. But there it is. If you like Hilary Mantels historical dramas or John le Carrés thrillers, youll be very much at home with this book. ...more
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book sneaks up on you. It starts out with the Turkish ambassador and his retinue visiting England and Queen Elizabeth on a state visit. Among the retinue is a the ambassadors doctor. I did not know which way the book would go, but without giving too much away, the doctor allegedly converts to Christianity and is sent as a spy to Scotland to help the English determine if James I is catholic or protestant. If this sounds rather dry and unexciting, you would be wrong. Phillips imbues this ...more
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lets start with a few givens. Queen Elizabeth I was a formidable Monarch. There has been much speculation about her even so far as to suggest that she may have been a he. Unmarried, childless with her health and mind failing, her throne and kingdom are up for grabs. Her familys enmity (after all Elizabeth had her first cousin beheaded) has allowed her advisors and spymasters to determine who will ascend the throne.

King James VI is rotting and plotting up in the Scottish Highlands just waiting
George Otte
Mar 09, 2020 rated it liked it
The King at the Edge of the World is in many ways a marvelous achievement. First and foremost a comeuppance for Westerners who think of the reign of Elizabeth (also the heyday of Marlowe and Shakespeare) as the trunk stem of the vast British empire, the novel takes as its setting Elizabethan England (and Jacobean Scotland), but its protagonist, Mahmoud Ezzedine, is from the vaster, older, more durable Ottoman Empire. He finds the world he is transplanted into horribly shabby and backward, damp ...more
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips is masterful in plot, characters and writing. It's a complex book of historical fiction that surprises the reader at many turns. My only criticism is the pace became slow in the middle but was well-worth getting to the ending.

The main character is an intelligent and philosophical Muslim Turkish physician that is left behind in England after coming as part of a diplomatic trip. The story takes place at the beginning of the 17th century while
Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
The King at the End of the World is a historical fiction spy novel centered around the end of Elizabeth Is reign and the questions about her successor. More specifically, the religious views of her potential successor. I love history, especially this time period and so was drawn to this book and found it enjoyable. I loved the religion play of juxtaposing the religious furor of the Catholics and Protestants next to that of a Turk who had very little interest in either religion. I found myself ...more
Mar 12, 2020 rated it liked it
(I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions in this review are my own.)

"..(Murad the Great)...dispatched an embassy to a far-off, sunless, primitive, sodden, heathen kingdom at the far cliffside edge of the civilized negotiate with the people of that patch of damp turf."

What a great beginning! I fell in-love with this book on the first page and I couldn't wait to read this book that viewed the western world through the eyes of an educated Muslim Turk!
I was intrigued by the setting of this book-the twilight years of Queen Elizabeth's reign and the political atmosphere surrounding Scotland's King James as he waits in the wings to inherit England. The addition of a Turkish physician left behind after a Turkish delegation visited the Tudor court should have added some spice into a Tudor novel, but Doctor Ezzedine was just so depressing that it was hard to really become engaged in the story. When the espionage ramped up at the end, it was just a ...more
Susan Zinner
Mar 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Muslim doctor Mahmoud Ezzedine is asked to stay behind in the court of Queen Elizabeth I after the royal court of the Turks visit England as a special favor to the queen. Unhappy to leave his wife and young son back in his homeland, he is eventually promised that any information he can provide about the queen's likely successor, King James of Scotland, and his religious leanings (Catholic or Protestant?) will earn him a trip back home. His struggle to learn this information, his anxiety about ...more
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Espionage in the upper echelons of international governance? Powerful men whose allegiance can never fully be clarified? ....but make it Elizabethan.

A detailed, well-researched look into the end of Elizabeth I's reign, the beginning of King James VI of Scotland's ascension to the throne, and the varied-- and fully human-- cast of supporting characters who pull the strings. This is a beautiful, intricate, novel and Phillips is, as always, a masterful writer. I will say the middle sections tend
Nanette Williamson
Mar 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A literary spy-novel, perfectly written to examine the relationship between truth and reality. Actors makes the best spies, since they used to pretending and assuming other identities. Weird and sad and thought-provoking. I thought it really captured the personality of James VI/I, at least as I've read of him. I read many years ago that the reason the United Kingdom has fewer religious tensions than the United States is that they've already had their religious wars; this novel elucidates that ...more
Nelda Brangwin
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If television was around during the Elizabethan age, this book would have been the basis for Englands Tudor House of Cards. Fearful of King James and Catholicism, the spymasters send an Turkish emissary who has lived in England for many years to find out if James plans to make England Catholic after Elizabeth Is death. This is an exciting historical fiction book, that will keep you guessing through its entirety. This is a very original take on Elizabethan history. Calling this book a thriller ...more
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