It’s been a long time since I was as caught up in a novel as I was in Palace Circle. The action sweeps from London’s glittering debutante balls to the crowded streets of World War II Cairo, with seamless transitions between scenes and viewpoints and never a dull moment throughout. In 1911, eighteen-year-old Delia Chandler marries Viscount Ivor Conisborough, twenty-two years her elder, exchanging carefree days at her beloved Virginia home for a life of privilege at the Windsor court. She adjusts quickly, captivating aristocrats and politicians alike with her Southern charm and outgoing personality. Despite the casual acceptance of love affairs among members of her circle, Delia believes her marriage to be an exception to the rule—until she comes face to face with Ivor’s gorgeous long-time mistress.
After the births of her children, Delia finds happiness in her own extramarital liaison until her husband’s posting to Cairo separates her from her lover. Ivor’s role as advisor to King Fuad and tutor to his son, Prince Farouk, becomes critical to British interests as Egyptian revolutionaries gain ground and the Nazis rise in power. The two Conisborough daughters, Petra and Davina, grow up in an ethnically diverse prewar Egypt but pursue different paths in life. Their romantic entanglements are complicated by their father’s politics and secrets from their mother’s past.
Dean writes with a light touch that reflects the freewheeling spirit of the era; notables like Margot Asquith, Wallis Simpson, and Winston Churchill breeze through the narrative as they briefly interact with the fictional characters. Although the pacing is brisk, Dean doesn’t neglect the smaller details that add so much vibrancy to her settings. In all, Palace Circle is a saga both intellectually lively and emotionally satisfying. Its four hundred-plus pages passed by much too quickly; I wouldn’t have minded four hundred more.