2020 Reviews · historical fiction

Book Review: The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnball

Title: The Woman Before Wallis

Author: Bryn Turnball

Published: September 9th 2020

Publisher: HQ Fiction – US

Pages: 368

Genres:  Fiction, Historical

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 4 stars

For fans of The Paris Wife and The Crown, this stunning novel tells the true story of the American divorcée who captured Prince Edward’s heart before he abdicated his throne for Wallis Simpson.

In the summer of 1926, when Thelma Morgan marries Viscount Duke Furness after a whirlwind romance, she’s immersed in a gilded world of extraordinary wealth and privilege. For Thelma, the daughter of an American diplomat, her new life as a member of the British aristocracy is like a fairy tale — even more so when her husband introduces her to Edward, Prince of Wales.

In a twist of fate, her marriage to Duke leads her to fall headlong into a love affair with Edward. But happiness is fleeting, and their love is threatened when Thelma’s sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, becomes embroiled in a scandal with far-reaching implications. As Thelma sails to New York to support Gloria, she leaves Edward in the hands of her trusted friend Wallis, never imagining the consequences that will follow.

Bryn Turnbull takes readers from the raucous glamour of the Paris Ritz and the French Riviera to the quiet, private corners of St. James’s Palace in this sweeping story of love, loyalty and betrayal.


‘People like us, she thought triumphantly, own the world and everything in it.’

The Woman Before Wallis is the debut novel by Bryn Turnball. A story filled with glitz, glamour, scandal, passion, lust, ambition and riches, The Woman Before Wallis unveils the notorious life story of the American woman who captured the heart of the future king before Wallis Simpson came along.

Following a swift romantic affair, Thelma Morgan marries Viscount Duke Furness in the late 1920s. Upon their union, Thelma is soon swept up in a world of luxury and riches.  Introduced to royalty and moving in the highest social circles, Thelma encounters the future heir to the British throne, the Prince of Wales.  A relationship soon ensues between the future king and the wife of the Viscount, but this ill fated love affair is cut short. With troubles abroad, Thelma must return to America to support her twin sister Gloria in the fight of her life.  A scandal of epic proportions is brimming back home and Thelma must do all she can to help her sister in this time of need. A fateful decision to leave Edward, Prince of Wales under the care of her confidante Wallis Simpson has unexpected consequences for the future of the British monarchy.

I have long been fascinated by the life of the king who abdicated the British throne and his wife, Wallis Simpson. I have sought out various fiction, non-fiction, documentaries and dramatisations featuring the royal couple. Until Bryn Turnball’s debut novel, I had not encountered Thelma Morgan/Furness before and I’m glad I could discover something about this enthralling woman’s life, thanks to The Woman Before Wallis.

With themes of power, status, privilege, high society and belonging directing the events of this novel, The Woman Before Wallis recreates an interesting era with a sense of vibrancy. A time of change, as the world began to plunge into the Great Depression area, Turnball does an excellent job of outlining the historical context of her novel. Drawing on accounts, newspaper articles, newsreels and non-fiction material from this time, every last detail has been recorded. Turnball provides the reader with a wealth of period specific detail on fashion trends, music, culture, cuisine, social practices and morals of this era. We get a glimpse into the world of the upper class and aristocracy through Thelma’s marriage to Viscount Furness and of course, her fateful meeting with the future king. On the other side, Thelma’s sister Gloria shows the audience of the riches and power of those in the ruling class in the United States. All this was really interesting to uncover.

At the centre of Bryn Turnball’s narrative is Thelma, a woman with a great air of sophistication, ambition and passion for life. We witness Thelma’s fateful love affair with the Prince of Wales unfold. There are some interesting relationships explored in The Woman Before Wallis. The two sisters have a rather difficult and emotionally fraught relationship with their mother, along with some rather mixed up marital relationships, passionate affairs and parenting problems. It certainly made for an insightful read as Turnball delves into the complicated relationships and lives of the very rich. However, what remained very clear in The Woman Before Wallis was the strong bond between Thelma and her sister, which seem to withstand a great deal of turmoil.

A dramatic and informed look at a woman of power, status, beauty and glamour, Bryn Turnball uncovers many revealing aspects of a figure who may be known to many as just another of Prince Edward’s conquests. The Woman Before Wallis suggests there was much more to this woman than meets the eye.

The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnball was published on 2nd September 2020 by HQ Fiction – US. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Woman Before Wallis, Bryn Turnball, visit here.

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