I love innovative forms of storytelling, and this novel certainly delivers on that front, although I may be one of the few readers who wish it had gone even further with the variously styled chapters. While some chapters are written as excerpts from journals, blogs, newspaper reports and the transcripts of speeches delivered to various groups, at least half are written as straightforward reportage. I’d also have liked to see more use of different font styles for the various chapter types (I’d be interested to learn whether that was achieved in other editions than the one I purchased, since I know that some ebook compilers mess up complex formatting). Having said all that, this is a great story in and of itself.
Set in a near-future United Kingdom that’s very similar to the real one, with a few minor switches within the Royal Family, the Church of England and worldwide political movers and shakers, the novel tells the story of Princess Alexandra, elder daughter of the Prince and Princess of Wales, and her long-term girlfriend, the Royal Navy nurse Lieutenant-Commander Grace Stephens. With the advent of same-sex marriage, the pair want to formalise their relationship but are faced with the fact that while they could marry in a civil ceremony, the Church of England will not recognise their relationship – rather inconvenient for the future head of that church! Fortunately for the women, it soon transpires that their families, as well as various leading politicians, civil servants and churchmen support their plans, although others, including some important bishops, are violently opposed to the relationship.
Then there’s the question of succession. By marrying, the women are openly acknowledging that any children of their relationship will involve a third party (biologically if not on the birth certificate) and that throws up another big batch of ethical and political dilemmas. Meanwhile, the press and the blogosphere are hotly debating the issues with some prominent opponents organising protests and some unlikely supporters emerging (some of this may not be as much fun for non-UK readers who are less familiar with the precise leanings of various newspapers). Interspersed in all this we also meet some prominent but initially unidentified characters – including a gay diarist working within a specialised section of the police force, who turns out to have unexpected links to some of the other characters. A commenter on one of the blogs opposed to the royal wedding also becomes unexpectedly important to the plot, when he turns out to be a bit more than the common thug that’s initially implied by his statements.
As it becomes clear that a wedding in Westminster Abbey is unlikely to be an option, the women are forced to make compromises – at times risking serious damage to their relationship – but also discover new ways to involve the ordinary people of the UK and other Commonwealth countries in their big day (or days as it later becomes). This book also examines what it means to be British, Christian and/or part of the LGBT community in the 21st Century, and how some of the seemingly most inflexible people can learn tolerance while others aren’t going to get there just yet.
All in all, a very enjoyable look at faith, marriage, and sexuality, although my one last niggle is the book’s apparent assumption that the Church of Scotland is equivalent to the Church of England (it isn’t – and I’d almost expect Grace to be Episcopalian rather than Presbyterian from what we see of her family). Generally, though, I’d recommend this to anyone who wants a thought-provoking and, at times, challenging read over the holidays.
‘One day the Princess will be queen and, when that happens, she will be the Supreme Governor of our organisation. At which point, we will be in the position of having as our leader someone who is, in the eyes of the church, unmarried and living in sin. Unless we ask the Lord to bless her marriage now, how can we continue the same relationship with the crown? And what then for the spiritual life of the nation? We are the Church of England; we advise, and guide, and influence our lawmakers, and we’ve done so since Henry the Eighth’s day.’
When Princess Alexandra, the eldest daughter of the Prince of Wales, wishes to marry her long-time partner, Lieutenant-Commander Grace Stephens, their wedding has the potential to cause a constitutional crisis. When the couple go further and request a blessing by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the British establishment must find a way to accommodate the wishes of the woman who will one day be the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
In this thoughtful and thought-provoking novel, V. T. Davy examines the relationship between the monarchy and the church; the arguments for and against same-sex marriage; how some of Britain’s oldest and most revered organisations have acted to give equality to homosexual men and women, and become stronger for it; and, what happens to institutions when they refuse to embrace the demands of an enlightened society. The novel’s surprising conclusion is that those most damaged by institutionalised prejudice are often the people you would least expect.
It is a book that will test the opinion of every reader wherever they stand on these issues.
Read an excerpt.