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The King at the Edge of the World

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,474 ratings  ·  279 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 s
Hardcover, 266 pages
Published February 11th 2020 by Random House
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Average rating 3.60  · 
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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 th
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: netgalley, 2019
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,
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 Englishma ...more
lucky little cat
Wry & bittersweet historical fiction of sophisticated, educated Dr. Mahmoud Ezzedine, banished from his beloved Constantinople and forced to live among the stinking yahoos of Queen Elizabeth I's court.

Plot movement centers on political intrigue. But the author's really more interested in how Dr. Ezzedine hangs on to his sanity and dignity while he has so *very* little control over the events of his life.

So, a good book for 2021.

10 hours, 153 wpm
Caidyn (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.
May 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
The king at the edge of the world is King James VI, heir apparent to Queen Elizabeth I who, nearing death, will soon end her childless reign with no other clear successor. First, however, it must be determined that King James is not secretly a Catholic, a papist like his mother, Mary Queen of Scots. Thus, the espionage begins and with a most unlikely spy left to make the crucial determination. The novel is a witty, philosophical look at religion, a satirical look at the people and the puppet mas ...more
Penny (Literary Hoarders)
A very interesting premise, but unfortunately a very dry execution.
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audio, dnf, overdrive
This was not the right book for me. I can’t summon any interest in figuring out whether someone is Protestant or Catholic.
This book is Depressing, with a capital "D." It is firmly literary historical fiction, and I suspect that the author commits a cardinal sin with this book: he is trying to poke fun at his characters with the reader. There is a fine line between writing a meta novel and writing a meta novel that knows it's a meta novel. Where is that line? I don't know, but this novel crosses it. Also, when I was trying to describe this book to my long-suffering husband, I said it was "a book written by a man for ...more
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 historica
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 hi
Bruce Katz
Apr 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, audio-books
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. Sti ...more
Jun 19, 2020 rated it liked it
I'll call this a 3.49 star book. The tale of an Ottoman physician whom intrigue traps in Elizabethan England is an easy four stars: fresh, engaging, historically compelling and psychologically acute. I'd have loved to spend 269 pages inside the head of dr. Matthew Thatcher, formerly Mahmoud Ezzedine, fighting and failing to forget the warm winds of Constantinople while trapped inside the dingy, foul-smelling Edinburgh castle of King James VI, having been manipulated into spying upon the fickle, ...more
Due to reading the description of this thankfully I knew what the book was about but had I not read anything I might have given up halfway through.Things just didn't seem to be happening until about a hundred and fifty pages in and that is a exceptionally long time to keep reading.However,I kept going with visions of my Elizabethan spies, King James VI,Catholic,Protestant wars,Elizabeth I,plots,intrigue and ultimately was rewarded.Perhaps not as well written as I would have liked but overall I f ...more
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 fun—the 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 ends—that he becomes James I of England—doesn't take away ...more
Emily Roen
Jan 07, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: giveaways
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).
Sarah Wagner
Dec 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Elizabethan England is one of my favorite historical eras and this novel offers a fascinating perspective of the iconic period through the eyes of a Muslim doctor sent to England by the sultan as part of a diplomatic mission. Finding himself trapped after the embassy returns home, Mahmoud Ezzedine does his best to accept the life he has and eventually finds himself playing a role in the accession of James of Scotland to the Virgin Queen's throne. An interesting, which includes a perspective of t ...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 couldn’t 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
Feb 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
This work of historical fiction, set in Elizabethan England, is the story of Mahmoud Ezzedine, a Muslim physician who arrives at Elizabeth’s court as a member of an entourage of the Ottoman court, who is unceremoniously left behind when his countrymen return to Constantinople. Now stranded in a cold and inhospitable world, he continues to practice the medical arts, using methods far more sophisticated than those of his English colleagues. He becomes enmeshed in a plot to determine the religious ...more
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 v ...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. ...more
Joy Yates
Dec 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating look at 17th century British politics and religious prejudices through the eyes of a Turkish Muslim physician. Arthur Phillips is an incredible writer.
Bill Silva
Jan 10, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, different...there’s a more or less conventional historical novel plot here, but most interesting are the questions and speculations about identity, belief, and morality...and also the metafictional elements that surface throughout.
Jul 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Witty and somewhat post-modern historical fiction slash spy novel centered on a Turkish physician in the time of Elizabeth I.
Sarah Palsma
Jan 25, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A slow read but a compelling story of man who is forced to reinvent himself over and over again as he is passed from one sovereign to the next.
Jan 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways, own
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 beginni ...more
Kathy Reback
Jun 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Author Phillips' books are always erudite and this is no exception. His story is set in the 1600s when England has enjoyed a period of calm under Elizabeth's reign but that is likely to end upon her impending death. Is her cousin James truly a Protestant or is he secretly still a Catholic eager to restore England to the "one true Church" when he succeeds her on the throne? If so, that will plunge the country into more years of bloodshed. Whitehall ministers interested in keeping the status quo s ...more
Whitney Holley
Dec 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Absolutely loved this book until the ending which made me throw it across the room. Probably still 4 stars but I’m too mad at it right now! I was completely into this, flying through the final pages, and then just found the ending deeply unsatisfying even while being able to appreciate what the author was doing.
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