The Crown Lord

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Willie has grown up in the south in the lap of luxury, thanks to his father’s successful law career, living largely isolated from the tensions between black and white in America. Willie’s biggest concerns are dealing with a therapist and trying to keep his father from discovering his addiction to painkillers. But when his father’s latest case—defending a white man accused of murdering a black man in Detroit—takes him into hostile territory, Willie truly experiences the depth of the divide between races for the first time. In the north, a black supremacist group known as The Crown operates with impunity, keeping poor white folks in line with fear and intimidation as black culture continues to flourish. When his father ends up dead, Willie returns north to live with his uncle and sort out his father’s estate. Along the way, Willie will confront hard truths about himself, his culture, and the world he lives in. Because, particularly when it comes to race, it’s never as simple as black and white.

The Crown Lord is a bold experiment, a role reversal where all the sociological, cultural, legal, and political advantages and disadvantages that black and white people have experienced since the Civil War are inverted. Although the world itself is painted with broad strokes, it’s more familiar than you might expect. The old principles still prevail: power corrupts, mob rule is dangerous, and selfish people reach selfish conclusions.

This is not science fiction in an alternate history sense, since the tipping point—the slave revolt that overturned the path of history as we know it—is never fully explained. The reader doesn’t learn why it was so successful or why the North is the home of the black supremacist group The Crown, whereas the South is more liberal in its views. If you enjoy the nitty-gritty details of alternate history, you may come away disappointed. But don’t let that deter you. Because this novel is science fiction at its finest when it poses difficult, human questions for both the characters and the reader.

Family secrets, tight-knit communities, preconceived notions…all of them come to the fore and affect Willie deeply. And, when you have a character as emotionally stunted as Willie—someone numbed not only by pills and loss, but by privilege—the opportunities for him to learn are myriad. Thankfully, Willie is surrounded by interesting, complex people that all live their own lives. There are archetypes and one-dimensional characters around him, of course, but the main cast—from his uncle Reggie and Sheriff Green to white day laborers Maggie and Alan—are all believable, engaging figures, and Willie’s interactions with each are unique and intriguing.

The star of the book, however, is Joseph, the half-white boy who looks an awful lot like Willie’s Uncle Reggie. Unflinchingly kind and self-effacing, Joseph is a mirror for Willie, an alternate path his life might’ve taken if circumstances were different. His conversations with Willie almost cast him as a devil’s advocate, forcing Willie to face his own biases, foibles, and less than pleasant qualities. The book is by no means perfect—the therapist character, as a whole, feels pointless, only existing to provide backstory and the occasional unpleasant plot-moving convenience—and an eleventh-hour reveal plays out more as an inevitability rather than a shocking surprise. That being said, The Crown Lord takes some important risks and sticks the landing more often than not. At a time when racial tensions continue to be stoked for political gain, we need books like The Crown Lord more than ever: to ask hard questions, to encourage reflection, and to remind us of our similarities.

Reviewed By:

Author William Sirls
Star Count 4/5
Format Hard
Page Count 329 pages
Publisher Rare Bird
Publish Date 2018-11-13
ISBN 9781947856462 Buy this Book
Issue May 2019
Category Popular Fiction


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