Queen High by C.J. Carey
Reviewed by L.J. Hurst
Although not the first alternate history in which a Nazi leadership sits in London, Queen High is interesting among feminist visions of it. And “interesting” needs a list to explain why.
First, note that this is a sequel to Widowland, in which Rose Ransom and her friends and family were introduced. Rose works as a civil servant and literary censor. Her responsibility, though, is more like Winston Smith’s in Nineteen Eighty-Four: that is, Rose, to satisfy the aesthetic demands of (real Nazi) Alfred Rosenberg’s belief that women should be subject to men, and that literature should reflect this, re-writes the classics. The nadir of the practice can be read in the first sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a womb must be in want of a husband”.
Secondly, although it has some features of a police procedural (there is a murder at the beginning of the book reminiscent of Len Deighton’s SS-GB, but it hardly features), if anything, both of Carey’s books are novels of manners, an updating of Jane Austen, particularly as Rose moves in high-ish social circles in London. In fact, it is this social aspect that means Rose is given the job of liaising with Buckingham Palace over the forthcoming state visit of US President Eisenhower, who expects to meet the Queen Consort. The Queen Consort, though we see the title regularly in our own newspapers, in Rose’s world is Wallis Simpson. Before the first book the Duke and Duchess of Windsor returned to take the throne of England, and between Widowland and Queen High there has been a terrific killing, but it has had little effect on the world of Rose and her friends—something similar again to Jane Austen, whose books are set against the Napoleonic Wars, which are never mentioned.
Thirdly, what C.J. Carey (a pseudonym of Jane Thynne) does instead is emphasise the rapidity of Rosenberg’s anti-feminist impositions. Women are fed based on their level of importance, and these classes are strictly stratified and kept, given the names of significant Nazi women: do you know your German social history well enough to recognise the names “Geli”, “Klara”, “Paula”? The lowest level are the unproductive, post-menopausal Friedas, who are kept in “widowlands”. In addition to her literary role, Rose was given the task of penetrating the widowland in Oxford in the first book, and returns there in the second to investigate potential sabotage against Eisenhower’s visit. The Oxford widowland is clearly Jericho—if you want an idea of how grim Carey portrays it borrow the DVD of the first Inspector Morse mystery, John Thaw in The Dead of Jericho, and then try to imagine the area looking even worse.
Meanwhile you have to consider Nazi history and a point of divergence (Widowland is a 2023 Philip K. Dick Award nominee): the condition of women has collapsed almost immediately in Rose’s world. In the other, older work of feminist Nazi re-vision, Katherine Burdekin’s Swastika Night (originally 1937, republished in 1984, see my Vector review) Burdekin supposed that society would collapse over a far longer period. That brings us back to two names in Nazi theory, Rosenberg and Röhm: Carey’s premise is the importance of Alfred Rosenberg, whom she mentions in an endnote to Widowland. Rosenberg was male supremacist and heterosexual: Röhm was a male supremacist and homosexual. Burdekin’s world was an extension of Röhm’s. Since its re-discovery Swastika Night has remained in print. In fact, it is becoming more widely available, appearing just this year in a Catalan translation as La Nit De L’Esvàstica, for example. Women have never gone away.
Read Queen High? Yes, though you will benefit most by reading Widowland first. And probably want to read more widely, too, about this world of night and fog.