Queen Wallis by C.J. Carey
Historical Fiction | Dystopian | Alternate Reality
Queen Wallis is the sequel to the compelling, alternate-reality novel, Widowland by C.J. Carey. This feminist dystopian series is a dark, alternative history that imagines what a British alliance with Germany would have looked like following WWII.
Widowland has been one of my favorite reads this year, and having received a copy of Queen Wallis from the publishers, I was really excited to dive into the next installment of the Rose Ransom series. But while I loved being back in this world, I finished this sequel feeling a little more conflicted in my thoughts and review.
On the one hand, the setting and themes are fabulous. Carey does an excellent job with world-building, and creating an authentic dystopian society that feels beat-up, grungy, and oppressed. The book begins two years after Widowland ends, and with the assassination of “the great leader,” we find Britain under even stricter restrictions. The ruling party is continuing with its quest to rewrite history and “sanitize” collective memory, and the caste rules for women have been tightened further. There’s a thought-provoking depth to the story as the underlying message addresses issues that aren’t simply confined to this alternate-historical novel.
However, in Queen Wallis, the plot and characters came across as very repetitive to the first novel. (A note on history repeating itself, perhaps?) Rose is a much weaker and less compelling character in this book. While this was clearly a specific choice the author made for the plot, it felt as if all the character work in Widowland had been undone. Given that I had just read the first book a month ago, this felt too similar.
While the events of the first book end on a cliffhanger, they aren’t addressed in Queen Wallis until much later on. This created confusion for me as a reader. Again, this was clearly an intentional part of the plot, and I understand why it was necessary for the story – I just didn’t think it worked for me.
That being said, I read this book in two days and had a difficult time putting it down. I needed to know what was going on, and in that way, the lingering suspense and confusion proved successful. (Like I said… I’m conflicted on this one!)
I think for me, it ultimately comes down to the fact that I loved Widowland so deeply. I probably would have enjoyed Queen Wallis to the same effect, had I not read the first book. As a sequel though, it didn’t grip me in the same way. (Note: Definitely read Widowland before Queen Wallis! It’s not a standalone.)
In conclusion… Yes, there are certain historical points that didn’t quite work for me. No, I didn’t find Rose a compelling character in this story. But yes, I still really enjoy this world. The ending of Queen Wallis leads me to believe that there is a book three in the works, and despite my hesitations about this sequel, you can absolutely believe that I will be first in line to see how this all concludes.
Those who have read and enjoyed Widowland by C.J Carey
This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Advance e-copy of the book provided courtesy of the publisher, Sourcebooks and NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.
About the book:
(From the publisher) London, 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 poetry, which has been banned for its subversive meanings, emotions, and signals that cannot be controlled.
A government propaganda drive to promote positive images of women has just been announced ahead of a visit from Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first American president to set foot on English soil in two decades. Queen Wallis Simpson will be spearheading the campaign, and Rose has been tasked with visiting her to explain the plan. When Rose arrives at the palace, she finds Wallis in a state of paranoia, desperate to return to America and enjoy the liberty of her homeland following her husband’s death. Wallis 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?