Rebecca Dean's "The Shadow Queen" illuminates the life of Wallis Simpson, the Baltimore socialite for whom England's King Edward VIII abdicated the throne, forever changing the course of British history. The book is a mix of fact and fiction that plays out against a background of high-society living, royal house parties, diplomatic missions and the world's involvement in the Great War. Dean informs us that several of her primary characters -- for example, Wallis' first boyfriend, John Jasper, and her friend Pamela Denby -- are fictional.

Dean's main task is to depict the transformation of an unremarkable young person into the kind of woman capable of motivating a man to give up a country in exchange for her love. A weakness apparent in the novel is its emphasis on Wallis' youth and horrific first marriage rather than on her consequential relationship with the Prince of Wales.

Wallis was raised in Baltimore by her widowed mother. Though she was descended from two of the city's most prominent families, she and her mother were forced to depend on the whims of a tyrant uncle for funds. The frustration of "keeping up appearances" was never ending.

It is Denby, Wallis' friend and the daughter of a British earl, who has a mad crush on Edward, Prince of Wales. Though intrigued by the fantasy of Prince Edward, Wallis has her own boyfriend, Jasper. She has known him since kindergarten and is deeply in love with him. When she is at boarding school, the 15-year-old Wallis sneaks out of a dormitory window in the middle of the night to meet him -- an all-too-familiar scenario that should have been omitted.

The quality of the novel improves when Dean chronicles Wallis' marriage to an alcoholic Navy pilot with a violent temper. From the very beginning of their marriage he physically abuses her. The resilient Wallis divorces him and soon has an affair with a dashing Argentinian diplomat. In the 1920s she travels to Hong Kong at the request of the CIA to spy for the United States.

Next, while living in London where she has reconnected with Denby, she meets and marries an attractive man whose father is English and whose mother is American. Ernest Simpson has impeccable credentials -- Harvard, the Coldstream Guards and a lucrative ship brokerage firm.

Predictably, the novel ends on a happy note. Wallis and the Prince of Wales -- having become acquainted earlier at a handful of house parties -- are saying goodnight at the door of a Grosvenor Square townhouse. He offers her a ride, saying, "No one before has ever shown any interest in my work as the Prince of Wales."

Katherine Bailey lives in Bloomington and blogs at