To my mind, when it was published four months ago, American Royals (Random House) probably generated less interest than it is right now. After all, even at a time when American politics are at their most amusing, the British royal family — and its American-born duchess — have been capturing headlines. That can’t have been bad timing for bestselling author Katharine McGee’s engaging new book.
Though it’s been published as Young Adult fiction, American Royals could just as easily have been called alternative history, and an engaging alternative at that.
The premise — or conceit, depending on your perspective — is that, at the time of the American Revolution, George Washington got a crown rather than a presidency. Two hundred and fifty years later, the house of Washington still rules the land, and a fistful of heirs apparent keep things from getting stodgy.
So yes, of course: this is teenage Dynasty with a royal twist. In McGee’s well-drawn world, American King George IV is on the throne and his daughter, Princess Beatrice, is the heir apparent: when the time comes, she will be America’s first queen regent. It’s a place she has always known she’d take but as American Royals begins, she is feeling gunshy around it. Her younger siblings, twins Jefferson and Samantha, have always known the crown would come to Beatrice, and so have felt freer than their sister, as younger siblings often do, even though Samantha is next in line should something go wrong. It’s a responsibility she’s never taken seriously at all.
McGee’s alternate reality is charming and compelling. There’s also quite a lot of it: at 440 pages, it’s almost as thick as the later Harry Potter books: there’s enough here for a voracious young reader to slip her teeth into. And it should hold her, too: though Random has yet to give away the title or plot of the next book, we know one is expected for the fall of 2020. ◊