England, April 1953. But this is a quite different country – one that succumbed to Germany in 1940 and has since been under occupation. Rose Ransom, aged 29, works in the Ministry of Culture in Whitehall. There is a gender imbalance with two women for every man – the men either killed in the fighting or sent to work “on the mainland” for the German cause. All women are allocated a caste according to their racial characteristics and intellect, the Nordic-Aryan features being most favoured. Rose was classified in the highest category (known informally as Gelis, in honour of The Leader’s niece Geli Raubal), which gives her a relatively high-ranking post for a British citizen. She is given the Orwellian task of ‘editing’ novels from the English fictional canon to make them in line with the current ideology, i.e., primarily to amend and downgrade the role of intelligent and capable women and other undesirables, such as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and characters in Little Women. And then Rose is tasked to investigate some resistance activity in the so-called Widowlands – a run-down area of Oxford where widows, spinsters, and other elderly (and hence considered useless) women have to live in very spartan conditions.
As always with alternate histories there has to be a substantial back-story, so that the reader is informed of how affairs have developed and the divergence from the actual course of history. This is well-researched and entirely plausible, giving an air of verisimilitude to the narrative. There is occasional use of 21st-century phrases such as ‘politically correct’ and ‘back in the day’ which probably would not have been deployed by citizens of an occupied UK in the early 1950s. Nonetheless this is an excellent work of fiction, both entertaining and intelligent, with an absorbing and enjoyable storyline.