1955 The Leader has been dead for two years. His assassination, on British soil, provoked violent retribution and intensified repression of British citizens, particularly women. Now, more than ever, the Protectorate is a place of surveillance and isolation – a land of spies.
Every evening Rose Ransom looks in the mirror and marvels that she’s even alive. A mere woman, her role in the Leader’s death has been miraculously overlooked. She still works at the Culture Ministry, where her work now focuses on the outlawed subject of Poetry, a form of writing that transmits subversive meanings, emotions and signals that cannot be controlled. Therefore all Poetry is banned and Rose is appointed a Poet Hunter.
To widespread surprise, President Eisenhower is to make a state visit to the Alliance and Rose is tasked with visiting the widowed Queen Wallis to provide a background briefing. When she arrives at the palace, she finds Wallis in a state of paranoia, desperate to return to America and enjoy the liberty of her homeland. She claims she has a secret document so explosive that it will blow the Protectorate apart – but will the last Queen of England pull the trigger on the Alliance?
My thoughts: this series (Widowland was the first book) continues to be a) deeply sinister and b) contain some of my worst fears. I am a literature scholar, hoping to do my PhD in the not too distant future, so censorship makes me a feel a bit sick. The rewriting and burning of books honestly is so disturbing. I do appreciate Rose telling the detective Schumacher that “[she doesn’t] think you’ll ever erase poetry. Not as long as love exists.” because I believe that too.
As the American President Eisenhower makes a historical visit to the Anglo-Saxon Alliance hellhole that Britain has become, Rose meets Queen Wallis, the Queen we never had, who has become so sick of the world she lives in, she wants to defect back to the US and hand over an explosive book.
But Rose is still on a watch list after The Event, and it’s starting to catch up with her. The past, the one no one’s supposed to think about. And Oliver, is he out there somewhere?
Sinister and reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale with its classification of women, as well as several other “what if?” books (not a genre I enjoy too much), this is compelling reading. And in an age of attempted historical rewrites and politicians who seem to pride themselves on their ignorance, an important one. Let’s not backslide into fascism and hatred. Read books, shout poetry out loud and remember.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.