Widowland, C.J. Carey (Quercus 978-1-529-41199-7, £14.99, 436pp, hc) June 2021.
Widowland by C.J. Carey would be a very intense, engaging, and horrifying book if we didn’t live in a world that has 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Brave New World already in it.
Carey – the pseudonym of historical fiction writer Jane Thynne – has created an alternate history of 1950s Britain, one where the Prime Minister capitulated to Hitler in the 1940s. The Third Reich has established Britain as a Protectorate and social experiment, one where women are sorted by type, thought crimes exist, and anything of worth is shipped to the Fatherland. This England is a bleak place full of broken people, only some of whom can remember the before times when they had some freedoms.
To cheer the populance up a bit, which should forestall a revolution, the powers-that-be decide to hold a coronation for Edward VIII and Wallis, the current king and his queen. The Resistance knows this is the best time to fight back. Rose Ransom, a high-caste woman who works in the Propaganda Ministry, gets caught in the middle of it – and may hold the key to winning this war.
The plot is pretty much by-the-numbers as far as fiction goes. Carey wields a firm hand to make sure all of the pieces fall where she wants them, which leaves the story feeling airless, especially when coupled with her urge to jam every last bit of research she’s done on World War II into the world of the story. As novels go, it’s decidedly adequate. But Widowland pales when compared to similar stories that came before, despite the earnest wish to be one of those stories, which seems to be the force that animates these pages.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.
This review and more like it in the October 2021 issue of Locus.
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