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This is the ideal summer to release this book. The world is focused on London with its Summer Olympics and Queen Elizabeth II's jubilee. What better time to read an adventure story about a futuristic Windsor princess — one that bleeds, cries, makes mistakes and then rescues herself, thank you very much!
Eliza is second-in-line for the throne, the great-great-great-granddaughter of the current Queen. She is living in an age of economic and ecologic collapse. Fossil fuels are gone; food is scarce; pollution is rampant; and the atmosphere is still recovering from a catastrophic volcanic outburst that rained ash globally for seventeen days. Fortunately for Eliza, the author chose to ignore the consensus belief that London will be under water by her era. Still and all, it is a time of want and desperation and even the ghostly semblance of privilege that the Windsors maintain is enough to raise ire in a starving populace.
And when ire is raised the loonies will crawl out of the cracks.
The lead loony in Eliza's time is a wealthy bio-engineer who can trace his ancestry to a bastard Tudor and from that — and what he portrays as ineptitude in the reigning monarch to deal with mounting crises — he has concluded that he should be king. So he takes it upon himself to assassinate the royal family (beginning with Eliza's mother) and foment a revolution. Eliza's father is murdered in a raid on the palace, and her siblings are taken captive. She manages to escape when a Tudor soldier fails to reveal her hiding place. Deciding that the only way to save her family is to infiltrate the enemy, she joins and trains with them and soon meets the soldier who allowed her to escape — and who know exactly who she is.
This soldier — Wesley — tells Eliza a tale of murder and loss that mirrors her own and she falls in love with him. Together they plot to rescue Eliza's siblings and bring down the Tudor revolt with papers that outline a twisted plan to save the country through genocide. A plan that is already well underway, with the mass graves to prove it.
For all the outlandish plot points, this is a human, grounded tale. Yes, Eliza is a princess and she does take her position seriously. She calls England "my country" with a far more proprietary air than others would. But the core of the story is very small in scale. Eliza's parents are brutally murdered and she grieves for them. Her siblings are suffering and she does whatever it takes to help them. She misses her dog and the comforts of a warm bed and the freedom to roam the countryside. The night before they are to be executed, she jokes with her little brother about the loved ones they will see in heaven the next day.
I was entranced from the beginning to the end.
I have only one nit-picky comment on the book. And yes, I know it is petty, but it did mar the reading experience for me towards the end. This is a country that is starving, that has seen years of crop failures. This is a time that is several generations into the future, an interval of time that (if today is any guide) presumably wouldn't have had much use for the horse. So how is it that horses seem to exist in abundance in every village and hamlet when the call to war comes?
I know, nit-picky. Still. . .