This is the second in a series that feels like a trilogy – this book feels very much like a second book leading to the finale. The first, Widowland, was set in the 1950s in an alternative history. Germany and Britain created an Alliance and Britain is run to service Germany. Women are divided into castes and can only work depending on their caste. Their job is really to have children and raise them in the ‘correct’ way.
Queen High moves the story on. If the first book was about the power of books and stories, this was about poetry and its role in remembering and having the words to speak when in love. The protagonist Rose Ransome works for the Ministry of Culture rewriting or editing poetry to make it fit the German ideals of family life and the roles of women. She constantly questions what she is doing here as she takes on more and more dangerous roles – interviewing Queen Wallis to find out what she might say to the American President who is visiting, to hunting down poetry meetings and infiltrating them.
But the President’s visit is a ruse and whilst attention is drawn away from the normal things, the widows rebel, Wallis escapes with the President back to America and Princess Elizabeth sneaks into Buckingham Palace to take up her rightful place with her people. The book is left teetering on the edge of a rebellion and all set up for the third.
I could believe that with Elizabeth back in the country, people might take a lead from her and fight back. Rose, who is on the run, will play a part in overturning the Alliance and Oliver (her lover) will be killed. We shall see.
The phrase Queen High is one we use in card playing, but in this case in poker where you can have a hand with nothing in it but a Queen and win – sometimes called Queen High or a Nothing Hand.
This is another book that shows ways in which women can be written out of history – this time not by an individual author but by a society and its ‘rules’. Other books that do this are The Stone Diaires by Carol Shields and Trust by Hernan Diaz.