A Diamond in the Dust: The Stuarts: Love, Art, War: 1

Written by Michael Dean
Review by Katherine Mezzacappa

London, 1649: This novel opens with Charles Stuart’s walk towards the scaffold, through the Palace of Whitehall, remembering the paintings that used to hang there, and then recounts, in flashback, his inauspicious birth as a frail baby not expected to survive, his attempt to marry the Spanish Infanta, his eventual happy marriage to the French princess Henrietta Maria, and his career as one of the leading art collectors of his age.

Dean has done his research thoroughly. In Charles, he provides a portrait of a physically unpromising individual who dressed in ways to disguise his rickets and who was afflicted by a stutter. His father James is much less sympathetically drawn: pious witchfinder he might have been, but here it is his alter ego, a vicious sexual predator with a disgusting disregard for personal hygiene, who comes to the fore.

Although there is much to admire in this book, it reads too much like non-fiction: “He [Charles] would marry the Infanta Anna of Spain, thus allying England with the major Catholic power occupying Elizabeth’s kingdom…”

At times the authorial voice is intrusive, as in “Men who delight women tend to dislike other men who delight women, and so it was with Buckingham and Olivares,” or “Lanier also wrote poetry, as most people did.” Most?

Dialogue, when it appears, is vivid and sprightly, but there is not enough of it, and it too quickly gives way to telling rather than showing. The book ends very abruptly, with the promise of a sequel, but it does not feel like a natural break; perhaps this volume and the sequel could have been combined, providing the whole arc of Charles’s life.