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The King at the Edge of the World

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"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 successors secretly maneuver to be in position when the inevitable arrives. The leading candidate is King James VI of Scotland, but there is a problem.

The queen's spymasters--hardened veterans of a long war on terror and religious extremism--fear that James is not what he appears. He has every reason to claim he is a Protestant, but if he secretly shares his family's Catholicism, then the last forty years of religious war will have been for nothing, and a bloodbath will ensue. With time running out, London confronts a seemingly impossible question: What does James truly believe?

It falls to Geoffrey Belloc, a secret warrior from the hottest days of England's religious battles, to devise a test to discover the true nature of King James's soul. Belloc enlists Mahmoud Ezzedine, a Muslim physician left behind by the last diplomatic visit from the Ottoman Empire, as his undercover agent. The perfect man for the job, Ezzedine is the ultimate outsider, stranded on this cold, wet, and primitive island. He will do almost anything to return home to his wife and son.

Arthur Phillips returns with a unique and thrilling novel that will leave readers questioning the nature of truth at every turn.

266 pages, Hardcover

First published February 11, 2020

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Arthur Phillips

27 books390 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 420 reviews
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,050 reviews48.7k followers
February 4, 2020
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 name of divine love.

Nobody has ever satirized our fixation on such immaterial differences better than Jonathan Swift. In the first voyage of “Gulliver’s Travels,” the tiny people of Lilliput are locked in a ferocious battle with the tiny people of a neighboring island who insist — against all decency! — on breaking their boiled eggs on the big end instead of the little end. We are creatures, Swift suggests, more enamored of certainty than reason.

Arthur Phillips explores this human tendency and much more in his rich historical novel “The King at the Edge of the World.” A former “Jeopardy!” champion, Phillips has always been interested in the search for truth — and the strange dynamics of that quest. His first novel, “Prague,” begins with a group of young travelers sitting in a Hungarian cafe playing a game: Each person makes four “apparently sincere statements,” only one of which is actually true. Whoever fools the greatest number of players wins.

Now, with his signature wry humor, Phillips has recast that idle game in the tense world of early 17th-century European politics. As Queen Elizabeth lies dying, everyone is making “apparently sincere statements,” almost none of which are actually true. Whoever fools the greatest number of players wins.

The novel opens around 1600, when England has enjoyed a long period of domestic respite from sectarian turmoil. During her shrewd rule, Elizabeth has managed to keep the country Protestant and repel the attacks of Roman Catholics. But now that she’s about to receive her heavenly reward — without leaving an heir — England risks slipping back into spiritual chaos with all its attendant bloodshed. Unfortunately, to speak or even to think of the queen’s eventual death is. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...
Profile Image for Sarah-Hope.
1,130 reviews108 followers
November 13, 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, he finds himself being passed from one new master to the next as first the Ottoman delegation and later figures in Elizabeth's England gift him to one master after another. He makes his way gradually northward, until he arrives at the court of James VI of Scotland (soon to become James I of England). Here, he is technically the gift of a nobleman to the Scottish king, but the spy masters of Elizabeth's England have charged him with determining whether James is truly Protestant and, therefore, fit to be the heir of Elizabeth I.

This tale in itself is engaging, but the entree Phillips gives us into Ezzedine's inner life takes the book to a level of richness that is relatively rare in historical fiction.

This is a title that will speak to a variety of readers: those who enjoy historical fiction, those who enjoy mysteries, those who appreciate a book that wrestles with questions of faith and identity, and those who prefer titles that have a vision beyond a single narrative line. Keep an eye out for The King at the Edge of the World, and give yourself the gift of reading it as soon as you have the chance.

I received a free electronic copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes. The opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Aimee.
232 reviews9 followers
January 10, 2020
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 if you're reading them for straight historical fiction, you're missing a lot.

The King at the Edge of the World is the story of Mahmud Ezzadine, a Turk, a physician, and a member of a diplomatic delegation sent to Queen Elizabeth's England in 1601. Elizabeth is aging and without an heir to the throne, the various contenders are lining up and jockeying for position. As the Catholic/Protestant wars still simmerthroughout society, the world's spies are very, very busy.

Although he wishes to be done with diplomacy and return home to his wife and young son, Ezzadine makes a mistake trading quips with Kit Marlowe and is blackmailed into staying in England, and is "gifted" to the Queen, caught in the whorls and shifting tides of diplomacy. For a decade, he goes where directed, converts to Protestant Christianity, and busies himself learning England's plants and their medicinal uses. Eventually, he is recruited by Geoffrey Belloc to spy on the leading contender to the throne - James VI of Scotland - to determine whether James is, in his heart, truly a Protestant, or if he secretly still worships in his dastardly mother's Catholic ways.

Those are the nuts and bolts, and if Phillips had left it there, the book would have been entertaining enough, with its spycraft and plant lore and allusions to the plays and players of the era, Shakespeare and Marlowe included. But no, Phillips pushes it further: We know the outcome, or think we do, but of all possible outcomes, which pivot points and plans got us there? Questions of identity and character arise as well: Who are we and how do we know?Are we the masks we put on or the parts we play, and at which point does one become the other? What is in one's Secret Heart, and does it matter?

Reading an Arthur Phillips novel is like working a puzzle - there are a damn lot of pieces which fit together in myriad ways, and the picture that results is seldom the one you thought you were working on when you bought the thing. The view at the end, however, is worth the work.

(I received a free electronic ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review, in exchange for an honest review.)
Profile Image for Nadine in California.
957 reviews99 followers
March 25, 2020
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 Englishman in order to survive. For me, great historical fiction tells a mesmerizing story, while questioning the very idea of history itself, and Phillips does this wonderfully, especially in the final section.
"History is written by the future, and therefore distorted as its heart. There's no other way to write it, of course, but it always glows with the unnatural clarity of having eliminated all the possibilities that didn't happen. The present doesn't feel like a link in a chain leading to the eventual coherent historical event, and unlived futures infinitely outnumber the one statistically improbable reality that occurred."
Profile Image for lucky little cat.
548 reviews105 followers
February 28, 2021
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
Profile Image for Emily.
706 reviews2,043 followers
February 17, 2021
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 men." I stand by this, but I cannot explain it. If you know what I mean, then you know what I mean!!

I'm only writing this review because I'm trying to review every book that I read this year. This apparently means that a lot of my reviews will be Bad, with a capital "B."

PS - If you can't pull off , do not attempt it! The ending demonstrates that this book was just a collection of themes without an actual story.
Profile Image for Lacey.
227 reviews33 followers
November 25, 2019
*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 historical fiction, and this is an unusual point of view and a slightly later point in the timeline of an era I've read and enjoyed a lot. I started out more or less enjoying things and then it just . . . fizzled somehow. Like I said, I can't point to any one specific thing that went wrong, but I was reading paragraphs and entire pages a dozen times or more and just not absorbing what was written because my mind would start wandering. I was bored. Reading became a chore rather than a treat. I just had to stop. But apparently for those people this one works for, it's pretty good. I just wish that had been me.
Profile Image for Joy D.
2,069 reviews241 followers
May 5, 2023
Protagonist Mahmoud Ezzedine is a doctor from the Ottoman Empire. In 1601 he travels to England as part of a diplomatic delegation. They visit Queen Elizabeth I and discuss trade. Though he wishes to return to his wife and child, he makes an error in judgment and must remain behind in England. He is “gifted” multiple times to high-ranking nobles, converts (for appearances) to Protestant Christianity, takes the name Matthew Thatcher, and learns the medicinal uses of English plants. He is eventually asked by the Queen’s spy master to determine whether James VI of Scotland is, in fact, Protestant, as he professes, or if he is still secretly Catholic. The goal is to ensure he is suitable to inherit the throne upon the death of Elizabeth I.

This is an entertaining and well-written historical fiction. It provides the interior thoughts of the main character, as he grapples with issues of identity and makes observations about the situation in England and Scotland from an outsider’s perspective. He is a Turk, brought up Muslim, converts to Protestant Christianity, and investigates the true faith of James whose mother (Mary Queen of Scots) was Catholic. The story combines elements of espionage, religion, and Elizabethan history. It takes time to become immersed in the flow of the story, but really hits its stride once all the pieces and parts are set in motion.

It is intricately plotted, and the reader will have fun fitting all the puzzle pieces together. There are some great characters here. Ezzedine is not a natural spy, and he falls victim multiple times to the deceitful schemes of others. He questions his courage and wonders how events would have unfolded if he had acted more courageously. It is an intelligent book that works on several levels. The period details are delightful. The ending is clever and intriguing. If you enjoy books set in the Elizabethan period, I definitely recommend this one.

Profile Image for Will.
221 reviews
May 8, 2020
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 masters that inhabited England at that time. For those not exhausted after reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light and left wanting more, this could very well fit the bill. Arthur Phillips, best known for his excellent debut novel Prague, hasn’t written the masterpiece that Mantel has, but The King at the Edge of the World is very good, a richly detailed, and entertaining story of intrigue. Phillips is an excellent writer, an intelligent, thoughtful author and, as the Washington Post pointed out, one of America’s best.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,900 reviews534 followers
June 16, 2020
This was not the right book for me. I can’t summon any interest in figuring out whether someone is Protestant or Catholic.
Profile Image for Cher.
818 reviews281 followers
March 7, 2020
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 his feet, unmoving.

All throughout the novel, the author has a strikingly lovely way with words. It was thought-provoking to see the division of Christianity (Catholic vs Protestant) in the 16th century through the eyes of a Muslim, Mahmoud Ezzedine. Dr. Ezzedine’s philosophical character was the strongest part of the novel.

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.

Unfortunately, the other characters were not nearly as memorable. Especially King James, who despite all the time spent in his company, even his character lacked vitality and memorability. As a lover of historical fiction about real figures, this was a rather significant negative.

This was the first book I have read by Arthur Phillips, and I would read another by him without hesitation.
Favorite Quotes: The day comes when, like a river changing direction, every day we try to lose as little as possible.

It was no more than an older man’s pity at a young man not yet aware of how irrelevant so many things are.

First Sentence: In the palace of Felicity, in Constantinople, in the land of the Turks, early in the Christian year 1591, viziers to Murad the Great, third of that name, Sultan of the Ottomans, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Caliph of Caliphs, dispatched an embassy to a far-off, sunless, primitive, sodden, heathen kingdom at the far cliffside edge of the civilized earth.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,232 reviews54 followers
June 20, 2020
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, foppish potential heir to the English throne by anti-Papist "intelligencers." However, Mr. Phillips distracts us from Dr. Thatcher's predicament with the mildly interesting backstory of one of the "intelligencers," a secret agent in Queen Elizabeth I's employ whom the brevity of the plot forces into being an unlikely combination of James Bond-style brutality and George Smiley-style intelligence. Rounded down to three stars because of the ending, which I found silly.
Profile Image for Kasia.
207 reviews21 followers
January 13, 2020
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 beginning is really discouraging, chopped, uneven. Here and there I stumbled upon a really interesting thought or elegant turn of phrase but first 100 pages were pretty challenging. After that it got better and I couldn't stop marveling about how many interesting aspects of the story author tried to explore. Sadly, at the end, everything turned out somewhat flat, not satisfying, not worth the struggle at the beginning and yet I find myself thinking about the questions that were asked in the book. Will probably come back to it at some point in my life.
477 reviews151 followers
April 3, 2020
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. Still, the uncertainty is true to the book and true to the world it depicts. It was impossible not to feel sympathetic to poor Mahmoud Ezzedine, the Turkish physician who is thrown into this strange maze of plots and counter-plots, uncertain loyalties, betrayals, and very high stakes.

I listened to the book rather than reading it. Doubtless it's a different experience when read, but the narrator here does an amazing job.
Profile Image for Juliew..
230 reviews151 followers
April 24, 2020
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 felt the author captured the mood of that world in the end.
Profile Image for Whitney Holley.
352 reviews10 followers
December 22, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Lisa.
611 reviews43 followers
March 2, 2020
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 from the thrill of the chase. And I say thrill with the caveat that it's not a particularly fast-paced book... but I didn't find it suffered for that, because the storytelling was good and it pulled me in. I think it helped that I like reading about that period, and Phillips's multiple close third person POV owes at least a little debt to Hilary Mantel, which is not a bad thing at all.
Profile Image for Sarah W..
2,139 reviews16 followers
October 6, 2021
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 read, which includes a perspective of this era not typically included in the many historical fiction novels covering this period.
Profile Image for Emily Roen.
5 reviews
January 8, 2020
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).
Profile Image for Celia Buell.
574 reviews28 followers
December 27, 2022
Maybe it comes from thinking I had more background on this period of history than I actually did for the specific contents of this book (specifically, the controversy surrounding the ascension of King James rather than the period directly after his reign began) but I had a really hard time getting into and remaining interested in The King at the Edge of the World.

The story itself was relatively hard to track, and there were a lot going on, and so many characters. This is why it never worked for me to learn history only by memorizing dates and figures when there's just so many of them, and though this is accurate to the time period as far as the minor players are concerned, there is too much going on to follow well as a novel, especially in the first half.

By the third section of the book (around halfway through), all the major players have been introduced, and then it becomes somewhat more interesting and slightly easier to follow. One aspect of the story I did enjoy was Ezzedine's inner war with himself on the issues of Christianity and Islam, when the entire country was at a standstill over Christianity as two separate religious practices (Protestant and Catholic). Through all of this, I enjoyed Ezzedine's inner conflict of not being able to see the differences as an outsider to the religion. As a nonreligious reader myself, it helped to have a main point of view be from someone with as little experience as myself.

I also appreciated the various disguises and names people would take, especially when King James brought up the point that people take on many names as he was making the switch between James VI of Scotland and James I of England, disregarding Ezzedine's assumed and insisted upon English identity at the same time.

These were some of the redeeming points. Once Ezzedine was inside James's court, the story did become a bit more interesting. But there was still a lot of confusion and the story was hard to follow in general with all the different players who went by different identities interchangeably. Eventually I just got tired of rereading everything and so much still not making sense that I probably skimmed more than I should have.

In addition to all of this, I didn't like the ending(s), definitely too much going on there. I get that it was crafted as a theater adaptation for changing times at the end, but it didn't seem to fit at all with the lived experiences of Ezzedine and the other main characters throughout the story. I do wonder if part of this is just that Arthur Phillips got tired of writing this, as I don't think it was very well thought out.

I think this one is going in the donation pile, but I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to reading more by Arthur Phillips.
Profile Image for Gintautas Ivanickas.
Author 14 books214 followers
July 28, 2023
1601-ieji. Karalienė Elžbieta I prie mirties, o įpėdinio ji neturi. Pagrindinis kandidatas į sostą Škotijos karalius Jamesas VI, tačiau yra bėdutė.
Karalienės šnipai baiminasi, kad Jamesas ne tas, kuo dedasi esąs. Škotų karalius teigia esąs ištikimas protestantizmui, bet gali būti, kad slapta išpažįsta katalikybę, o tokiu atveju gresia naujas kraujo praliejimas. Laikas bėga, ir Londonui reikia kažkaip kuo skubiau sugalvoti, kaip patikrinti, kuo iš tiesų tiki Jamesas?
Ir tada karalienės slaptosios tarnybos randa būdą, kaip patekti į būsimo karaliaus sielą. Užduotis pavedama Mahmoudui Ezzedine‘ui, musulmonų gydytojui, tapusį intrigų auka savo tėvynėje ir paliktą Anglijoje per paskutinę Osmanų imperijos diplomatinę misiją. Ezzedine'as svetimšalis šioje šaltoje ir lietingoje saloje. Jam nusispjauti į vietinius nesutarimus ir jis padarys viską, kad grįžtų namo pas žmoną ir sūnų.
Jei ką, tiesiog netikėkite visiems atsiliepimams ir reklamoms, kurios pasakoja apie tai, kad knyga „tikra dovana šnipų romanų gerbėjams“, kad ji „kvapą gniaužiantis trileris istoriniame fone“. Va, ko bus – istorinio fono. Bet irgi ne tiek, kad bent truputį nustebintų kažkiek girdėjusiam apie religinius konfliktus anų laikų ūkanotame Albione.
Visa, kas aprašyta anotacijoje (žr. aukščiau) prasideda gerai, jei persiritus per vidurį knygos. O skaitant neapleido jausmas, kad rašyta kelių skirtingų žmonių. Skyrius po skyriaus, regis, kinta ne tik tema, bet ir stilius. Jau, atrodo, įdomu ir įtraukia, tik staiga – pyst! – viskas pasikeičia ir brauniesi pirmyn per jėgą. O paskui ciklas sukasi iš naujo.
Eksperimentinė ir netipinė pabaiga (gal reikėtų sakyti – pabaigos?) irgi nei nustebino, nei sužavėjo.
Labai ne mano arbatos puodelis. Bet buvo ir gerų atkarpų. Tai trys iš penkių. Bet skysti. Bet trys.
Profile Image for Bretnie.
131 reviews
June 30, 2021
Took me a bit to get into it, but once I was in, I was hooked.
Profile Image for Nancy Gilreath.
378 reviews2 followers
December 7, 2019
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 Mahmoud Ezzedine, a forlorn doctor from Turkey, also known as Matthew Thatcher, to determine whether James in his heart is a Catholic or Protestant, and the future peace of England may hinge on the result. As in any good spy novel, no one can be trusted and one’s name is merely a moniker that, like outward religion, can be shed and adopted for convenience. The wrangling at court is immediately put into perspective by the gentle belittling of English self-importance under the guise of Ezzedine’s arrival from the purportedly superior Ottoman Empire. He observes the cold, grey rock that is England with its dirty, uneducated population of Christians in the same way British must once have observed far-flung colonies that they acquired to “civilize.” Ezzedine is bewildered by the idea that Christians who make the sign of the cross and those who do not have become bitter enemies with a will to destroy one another. Having been raised on a diet of Western European history only, I found it refreshing to recall that England, before her empirical glory, truly was a small, unimportant island in the face of more advanced cultures. I thoroughly enjoyed The King at the Edge of the World. The writing is so controlled that each word counts, and I found myself rereading paragraphs often to assure I gleaned from them the import of the words. Thanks to a Goodreads Giveaway, I received an advance proof copy of this - look for it when it’s published in February.
Profile Image for Kathy Reback.
541 reviews2 followers
June 10, 2020
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 send the most unlikely of spies to try to unmask James' intentions--a Turkish Muslim doctor who has undergone a forced conversion to Christianity.

Phillips has great mastery of the politics of the time which may force the American reader to refer to Wikipedia a good bit! I can hardly fault him for that. And no doubt he is trying to draw some comparisons between our time and then. Still, the novel feels a little flat, in large part due to the ambivalence of Ezzedine, the doctor. His portrayal is perhaps too modern. Is he depressed? Is he forgetful? Or is he cunning?

Phillips is clever and the reader has to be on his/her toes. I can admire his cleverness but it left me a little cold.

Profile Image for Elijah.
386 reviews11 followers
June 3, 2021
Very interesting take on spies and the war between the protestants and catholicism in the 16th and 17th centuries.

There are 2 main characters that we follow: Geoffrey Belloc a spymaster of some renown, and Mahmoud Ezzedine a turk from the Ottoman Empire sent on a mission by his sultan to scope out one of the kingdoms at the edge of the earth, the Great Britain.

There's a decent amount of politicking involved as well as deep cover missions and some really interesting debates over the evil acts of catholicism and how it should be eradicated and it really shows you how people were living in fear of the next time there would be a religious war because that was a big issue around that time.

The character work was also splendidly done as well! The 2 main characters get a deep dive into their psyche so we can get a feel for exactly how the felt in whatever situation they were in so that was another aspect I enjoyed.

Although, this thought provoking book was a bit long winded at certain points, I felt that it was a great foray into the religious war of the 15 and 1600s. Hopefully you guys enjoy this book as it's a doozy and happy reading!!
Profile Image for Chaitra.
3,536 reviews
March 12, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Scott.
333 reviews
January 23, 2023
I enjoy Arthur Phillips quite a bit. This is the fifth of his novels I've read, missing only Angelica. My first was The Egyptologist, that book of fabrication and obsession that was a look at an unsettling decent into madness. Then Prague and it's collection of expatriate friends in Budapest. The unique love story of The Song Is You, and finally the virtuoso metafiction The Tragedy of Arthur, complete with ersatz Shakespearean play.

In The King at the Edge of the World, Phillips turns to historical fiction to write about a Muslim doctor in Elizabeth I's court, then subsequently an odd appendage to James VI in Scotland. Matthew Thatcher, ne Mahmoud Ezzedine, finds himself enmeshed in the political timebomb of Elizabeth's pending death and uncertain heir to the throne. Ezzedine is caught up in systems foreign to him: the Christian squabbling over doctrine seems barbaric to him, the court a degraded copy of the Sultan's splendor, and the medicine in this savage country backward. Yet he is subject to significant powers, and finds himself a key component in the intrigue around the English succession.

Phillips has written a unique espionage novel: "The Man Who Knew Too Much" for the Elizabethan age. Spies root out crypto-Catholics, relatives are threatened if cooperation is not complete, promises of redemption are made. Phillips makes great use in crafting Ezzedine as a sympathetic character, forced to endure the barbarism of England. He is an ingenue, but one with powers of observation that propel the themes of the novel.
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