Because of his increasingly violent behavior, sexual misconduct and gluttony, King Rudolph II, Emperor of the Austro-Hungarial empire, isolates his bastard son, Don Julius, in a remote castle in the Czeck town of Cesky Krumlov. From a window in the castle, Don Julius sees the river and becomes infatuated with a Marketa, a bathmaid. Her father owns the bathhouse which her mother runs, but her father is also the local barber-surgeon. Marketa hates being a bathmaid, scrubbing the locals and sometimes being forced to satisfy their sexual needs. She dreams of being a doctor like her father. Eventually, a relationship develops between the prince and the bathmaid. At first he seems to truly love her, but his violent nature asserts itself and the story ends in tragedy.
The author has found a fascinating true story and done a good job of researching the 1600's in Bohemia. The setting and the manners of local people are very realistic. I enjoyed that part of the book very much.
The novel became tedious after the first two hundred pages. The characters are wooden. They seem more like puppets acting in the service of the story than real people whose personalities drive the action. This may be partly due to the length of the book. It is over 500 pages. Personally, I think 300 pages could be removed to make the story more poignant. The author seems to be trying to tell the story of the downfall of King Rudolph II as well as the story of his mad son, but the connection isn't close enough to make a coherent story.
The book is not well written. It's full of tired description and the dialog is often stilted. I finished the book, but it was a chore rather than a pleasure. I found the ending quite remarkable. I guess the author tried to rescue the book with a happy ending. I can't recommend this book unless you're very interested in the history of Bohemia, that is well researched.
I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.