Regency romance sits uneasily in a dystopian throwback future.
Poor little rich girl Madeline Landry wants to go to university before marrying and inheriting one of America’s most important estates. Madeline’s world is an odd amalgam of romantic notions of history and dark, postwar future. The western half of the United States fell years ago to “China and her allies,” exotic faceless caricatures who smuggle “plum wine, opium, and jade” and who don’t fight like “civilized armies” but are “brutal” when they “swarm.” Meanwhile, the gentry’s entire society rests on its enslavement of the Rootless, a diseased underclass responsible for maintaining the nuclear power invented by Madeline’s own ancestor. From within the cozy confines of her silken prison, Madeline realizes that forcing children to dispose of spent uranium while providing only enough medical care for them to stay fertile is a little gauche. Along with a few interestingly complex secondary characters, Madeline learns about the caricatured evil underlying her luxuries. Will she be able to assuage her conscience by merely scattering largesse to the populace out of a sense of noblesse oblige, or will she be forced to make any actual sacrifices?
Regency romances can combine well with science fiction (Lois McMaster Bujold’s accessible adult novel A Civil Campaign (1999) does so brilliantly), but this awkward merger of the two will convince few. (Science fiction. 12-14)