Two flavors that taste surprisingly good together: the manners of the Regency period, dipped into the darkness that comes after the complete collapse of civilization that results from an utterly devastating plague. In other words, what happens to the upper crust of the ton in a dystopian world?
Unlike Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, K. Reed’s Dark Inheritance: Fallen Empire is not playing for laughs. Someone has unleashed a plague on England, and the population has been reduced to a mere remnant of itself. Only the strong survive.
There are no zombies, no vampires, no ghouls. Well, not in the classic horror sense. There are only men and women who have survived a deadly disease that seems to have struck down eight or nine out of ten. Civilization has collapsed. Whole towns have ceased to exist. It’s as if the Black Death struck full force in 1804 instead of the 1400’s.
The English blame Napoleon. If the same thing happened in France, the French probably blame the English.
But Grayson Merrick, Baron of Harwich, doesn’t have time to worry about who the French think caused the plague. He’s much too busy holding his own lands. He kept his coastal fief of Harwich together, and relatively safe, when most of the lands around him descended into chaos. It’s required iron discipline, and a will of adamant, but two years later, he’s carved a safe zone for his people and is bringing more villages under his protection each month.
Relative safety means that he has time to worry about the future, the future of England. Rumor says that the Royals are all fled, or dead. That the government is gone. He heard one fairly credible rumor that some of the governmment officials were still alive in London, and he mounted a expedition to check it out. He found London a burned out wreck, and no government left. Almost no one left alive except the rats.
The heart of the Empire is dust and ashes.
As he returns to Harwich Grayson decided to take his foraging party, (for that is what they are, it is not possible to go out into the countryside without searching for supplies) to the house of his former commander.
His commander has died of the plague. Everyone in that house has died of the plague. Except for one beautiful woman. Who has survived, and like all survivors, is probably immune. But she is weak and will slow them down returning to Harwich.
Grayson has always told his men not to take survivors. They can’t save everyone. They don’t have enough supplies. This is a brutal necessity in a world gone mad. But he wants this woman. She is the only thing, the only person, he has asked for, for himself, in the time since the plague, since he began saving everyone else.
His men make space in the carriage they are using to haul supplies, and they bring her back to Harwich.
Her name is Juliette, Lady Adair. They should have met in a ballroom. He should have been able to respectfully pay his addresses, before the world went mad.
That world is gone.
Instead, he installs her in his rooms, because they are the only place good enough for her. There are no proprieties any longer.
And the first thing she sees when she wakes up is Grayson whipping a man for being falling down drunk on sentry duty, and allowing bandits into the safe zone. The man chose the whipping, because it was a preferred punishment to being exiled. Exile is death in this terrible world.
And Juliette understands. Only the strong survive. She is one of the strong ones. She is a member of the British Government. The question is, whether or not she can trust Grayson with her secret.
And whether he can trust her with his.
Escape Rating A-: This is an a darkly fascinating alternate history. The reader does not know how the plague came about, because the characters don’t know. The world has gone mad. How do the strong survive? Who do you trust? Life still goes on, but what changes?
The description of this story was a post-apocalyptic Regency romance, and it kind of is, but more in an alternate history sense. Everyone remembers the mannered culture of the ton, but the sane people know it’s over.
There is a love story, and the lovers, Grayson and Juliette, both think about what things would have been like, if, but recognize that the world has shattered. They regret what they’ve lost, but mostly the people and how much easier life was. They are pragmatic. Very. And while it’s expected in the hero, it’s also excellent to have in a Regency heroine. A simpering miss would be dead. Literally.
Regarding the spying and skullduggery against the French, it’s absolutely fascinating that even with the plague, the enmity between France and England is eternal.