Widowland by C.J. Carey
Alternate History | Historical Fiction | Dystopian
“An eerie story of “what if” that explores how some systems of female control cherished by the Nazis would have developed in a German-occupied England.” — Sourcebooks
Alternate history novels have always been a source of absolute fascination for me. I love watching an author’s mind weave together facts and imagination as they confront the “what ifs” of history. And in Widowland, C.J Carey has created a fantastic mesh of the plausible and the fictional.
The book is set in post-WWII England, and the country is eagerly anticipating a long-awaited coronation. Except, instead of Queen Elizabeth, it’s Edward and Wallis who are about to be crowned. It’s been thirteen years since England surrendered to Germany and formed the Grand Alliance. With most males shipped off to “the mainland,” women outnumber men two-to-one and have been relegated to a complex caste system. But lately, feminist quotes have started appearing, graffitied on public structures. Our main protagonist, Rose, is in charge of rewriting classic English literature to remove subversive ideas about women — but now, she has a new assignment, to find out who is behind this attempt to destabilize the alliance. And if she fails, it will be her life on the line.
Widowland is a slower-paced novel but the immaculate worldbuilding meant that I was unable to put it down. The author takes her time crafting an alternate history setting, carefully building a dystopian society that is strongly reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 — and yet, simultaneously feels fresh and unique.
Because this world is structured so differently than real-life, it took me a bit to fully immerse myself within it. A lot of the story surrounds the protagonists’ day-to-day life under this regime, and some readers may find that slow. I, however, quickly became hooked. While the “what if the Nazis won” has been done before (The Man In The High Castle, Fatherland, etc), this felt like a new take. The themes and topics addressed felt on target with modern readers — including the power of literature to counteract tyranny — and the writing itself was poetic and beautifully done.
While the ending could have been left open-ended as it was for the effect, it also lends itself neatly to a sequel. I can’t wait to see what happens next, and for that reason, I’m very much looking forward to diving into Queen Wallis — available August 2023.
Those looking for a slower-paced, alternate history novel with a strong female character and gorgeous worldbuilding
This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Copy of the book provided courtesy of the publisher, Sourcebooks. All opinions expressed are my own.
About the book:
LONDON, 1953. Thirteen years have passed since England surrendered to the Nazis and formed a Grand Alliance with Germany. It was forced to adopt many of its oppressive ideologies, one of which was the strict classification of women into hierarchical groups based on the perceived value they brought to society.
Rose Ransom, a member of the privileged Geli class, remembers life from before the war but knows better than to let it show. She works for the Ministry of Culture, rewriting the classics of English literature to ensure there are no subversive thoughts that will give women any ideas.
Outbreaks of insurgency have been seen across the country with graffiti made up of seditious lines from forbidden works by women painted on public buildings. Suspicion has fallen on Widowland, the run-down slums where childless women over fifty have been banished. Rose is given the dangerous task of infiltrating Widowland to find the source of the rebellion before the Leader arrives in England for the Coronation ceremony of King Edward VIII and Queen Wallis. Will Rose follow her instructions and uncover the criminals? Or will she fight for what she knows in her heart is right?