I recently finished a book called American Royals by Katharine McGee. You can read my thoughts on that book here. It’s more or less a good book, a little long for my liking. Most importantly, it’s an alternate history of the United States if George Washington was like “Yeah, sure, I’ll be king.”
Alternate history is a really great concept. It’s a fun thought experiment, especially if the person writing the book knows what they are talking about. It’s also great for people like me who knows nothing about history but likes to pretend I do. “Ah yes, this is exactly why the Louisiana Purchase would be different in this timeline.” It makes me feel smart, okay?
I don’t read a lot of them, however, mainly because I don’t read a lot of historical fiction. Also, why should I read about a fake history of America when I’m not any good with the REAL history of America. But, I gave this one a chance and, golly, I liked it. There is a big HOWEVER to that statement, though. There are a lot of little things that bother me about these kinds of books. They’re incredibly minor and I probably wouldn’t notice them if I didn’t listen to it.
1. Repeating real world information
This is the biggest thing that annoys me. At the start of the book, the narrator talks about how Washington decided to become king instead of anything else. “Like a president!” they say jovially. Ah, that was kind of cute. Hopefully they never mention it again. About a quarter of the way through the book, some characters are talking about how different it would be if, instead of a king, they had something different. “Like a president!” Alright. That’s enough. Then, I was listening while doing my shopping at Walmart and I heard something that made me abandon my cart, drive home, and stare at a wall for a few hours. “‘Can you imagine if, instead of a king appointed by bloodline, the people got to vote for a king?!’ says Character A. ‘Oh, that would never work,’ jokes Character B.”
Look, I get it, you’re trying to be funny and be like “See, this is actually how it is! How referential!” But it takes you completely out of the narrative. You’re right, that IS how the world is and the whole point of the book is to show what it would be like if it WEREN’T like that.
2. The immutability of Big Box Stores
Okay, this one is a really dumb quibble, but I gotta talk about it. They wouldn’t shut up about Wawa in this book. As an Iowan, I had to Google what that is and it’s apparently an East coast grocery store or something that has milkshakes. I understand why it is so necessary for the author to ground the story. It’s a YA romance after all, there has to be something that puts readers in a familiar place. However, isn’t it weird that Wawa exists in this alternate dimension? It’s not just that either. There are the books, shows, historical events that all still exist within this universe. This is where I wish I was more of a history buff. Like, would we still have had the War of 1812 if we were a monarchy? I dunno.
Also, what makes the cut? Does Twilight still exist? I feel like this would be a great way to get back at your more successful friends. Just write their work out of existence.
3. Mandela Effects
Speaking of the War of 1812, they didn’t burn down the White House in this book! The palace was ruined or something. Again, I know it’s out of necessity to change some of this, but the changes that are made are so small or slightly changed that it makes me uncomfortable. Like, the big historical events happened, but they are called different things. Who’s to say that any of that would have happened in this universe?
So, you’re telling me that America looks exactly like it does in this world as it does in American Royals? There was no single bit of land that we gained or lost in a complete alternate dimension? No? Okay.
Ultimately, none of this really effected my enjoyment of the book. These are just dumb things that I wanted to complain about. Well, onto the second half of my book digest!