The Last Princess

Well it’s apt that I happened to be reading The Last Princess by Galaxy Craze (really?) this week (I wrote this last week when the royals were here, but never got it posted) when Prince William and Princess Kate are in town, particularly when Kate was even referenced in the book about what happens to the royal family after the apocalyptic Seventeen Days. The timeliness of events probably made me enjoy the book a little more than I would have otherwise.

When I was a little girl I fell for the whole Princess Di (who was also mentioned in the book) fairytale. Yet, as we all learned her life wasn’t exactly the fairytale it seemed. So an apocalyptic book about a princess who is her descendant seems almost fitting, and definitely a novel idea in this genre, though if the world fell apart would there still be any royalty?

Princess Eliza was living the life of a young royal prior to the Seventeen Days. The Seventeen Days refers to the perfect storm of apocalyptic events when several natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes all happened within that short period. The Royal Family and their household staff took cover in a bunker and they emerged to reign over a very different world. As the result of so many cataclysmic events modern technology is gone, there are food shortages, and like any good apocalyptic yarn there are humans who act inhumane, in this story they are called Roamers. The Roamers are hardened prisoners who escape their cells during the disasters and ‘roam’ the woods capturing unfortunate souls whom they then eat.

Even before things reach such dire straits, Eliza is not immune from tragedy. One day a man drops off a basket of rare fruit for the royals and Eliza and her pregnant mom decide to celebrate with a picnic. However, when the Queen bites into the fruit it turns out to be poisoned and she dies. Eliza’s father becomes withdrawn, her older sister Mary cannot replace her mother, and Eliza’s little brother James is an invalid. James was the baby her mother was carrying when she dies, although he was saved, he has been sickly all his life. The young royals have spent the summer in Balmoral until summoned to London for their father for the Roses Ball.

Yes it seem incongruous that there would still be things like balls happening, let alone a royal family existing, even if the ball is not the luxury event it once was. The misguided King thinks it’s important to keep up traditions even during dark times, but fiddling while Rome burns is not an expression for nothing. The man who killed the Queen has risen to become the head of a movement called The New Guard and under the circumstances he could easily have received the sympathy of readers who might think having a royal family with servants when so many people are starving is tacky at best, but this man, Hollister, doesn’t really stand for equity and fairness, he just wants power and to take over and be King himself. That, plus the fact that he’s simply sadistic, means that readers will side with the royals. Particularly, when the family is attacked, and it’s Eliza who escapes and quickly sheds her privileged background to go on a mission to kill Cornelius Hollister. To carry out her plan she experiences hunger and violence eventually joining the very movement she has vowed to bring down by disguising herself. Unfortunately she has caught the attention of two captains of the New Guard, one who enjoys abusing her, the other seems to want to help her, but can she trust him?

The book veers away from its apocalyptic origins into William Wallace territory for its remaining two-thirds. I would have preferred a bigger portion of the book devoted to the apocalyptic aspects as I always think that the most interesting part of this genre is how people adapt from their normal lives to dramatically changed circumstances, in this case it would be even more of a transition since the main character is a royal.

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Into the Forest

You get used to the razzle dazzle when you are so inundated with it. Every romance has to be epic, every chase scene has to stretch the bounds of physics, and every story has to be jam packed full of meaning, dialogue, or plot.

This book, Into the Forest, by Jean Hegland, was startling in its quiet. You come across very few books that are like that in these modern times and particularly not in the genre I write about, dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. This is not one of those books they will turn into a film full of fresh young actors about to embark on a cinematic dynasty. This is a book that may make many readers twitch, unable to settle down into the slow groove of its pacing. Compared to apocalyptic books where there is movement and violence, this has none of the former and only a dusting of the latter. This is a book where the world we know changes with a sigh, not a bang.

Two sisters, Nell and Eva, close enough in age to be more like twins than sisters, live in the countryside with their parents. Once so close, a small fissure in their closeness happens when Eva trains to be a dancer against the wishes of her mother, a former dancer herself. Nell feels a little lonely, so she sets her own high goal to get into Harvard. As Nell is home schooled at home, Eva journeys into the nearest town and sometimes as far as San Francisco loosen their bond. However, after their mother dies of cancer and their father becomes a grief stricken shell, they turn to each other again.

Is it their respective intense training regimes, their isolation in the countryside, or the shock of their mother’s death that makes them seem a little oblivious to the obvious signs that things in the outside world are not going so well, or does that just make them human? After all, don’t we all feel deep in our belly a sense of unease? Isn’t that what has drawn some of us to this genre. They are also immunized to the changes around them by the fact that their father is handy, they have a garden, and are far from populated areas when violence erupts after work stops, electricity is lost and people fall sick or hungry.

As teenage girls they are still fixated on the idea of college, career, and of course boys, well Nell is during the trips into town they make in her father’s car. A routine that started when they came into town to visit their mother in the hospital and that no one could break after she passed. Missing her mother and even her sister who spends hours in their in home dance studio, Nell tries to shake off this feelings as well as her unease, by partying in the town square and having a crush on Eli, that is until there is no more gas, meaning no more trips to town.

Out in the country without electricity Eva dances to a metronome rather than music, and Nell starts reading an encyclopedia page by page, so as not to let her learning slip when the electricity comes back and she goes off to Harvard. There is nothing in the dictionary that tells her how to handle things when her father is injured while doing chores, and nothing that will help when something unexpected happens to her sister, though it does offer her some practical information that helps them survive in the interim between what their life was and what they expect it will be again.

The only books I have ever come across in this genre that had this slow flow about a world turned upside down have been Life as We Knew It and Not a Drop to Drink. If you can appreciate sinking into a deep rhythm and reading a book without a lot of bells and whistles, a book that reminds us that our present has only been a blink of an eye compared to the thousands of years of our past, Into the Forest is one to read with a glass of tea.