Coronation Year: A Charming Historical Tale Given New Relevance By Current Events

Books Reviews Jennifer Robson
Coronation Year: A Charming Historical Tale Given New Relevance By Current Events

Though author Jennifer Robson has written a half dozen historical novels, she’s probably best known for The Gown, a smartly tailored (get it?) story about the women who made Elizabeth Windsor’s wedding dress in the 1950s, told across both dual perspectives and multiple decades. While the timeframe of her follow-up is slightly more focused, Coronation Day once again tells the story of another auspicious day in the Queen of England’s life, only this time through a year in the life of three characters whose livelihoods are impacted by the event. 

The result is a surprisingly rich and layered piece of historical fiction that not only tells a compelling story about a landmark event but does so by reflecting the lives of the regular people living in a still-changing post-World War II London. Much like then-Princess Elizabeth’s wedding was seen as a diversion for a country still reeling from the war in 1947, her coronation just six years later was seen as a way to both help modernize the monarchy and bolster national morale, allowing Britons to—for the first time in a long time—look forward with hope.

And through no fault of its own, Robson’s Coronation Year is landing at an incredibly auspicious moment, just a month before the son of the woman at the center of its story will be crowned in his turn. Perhaps we’re all hungry for Royal-adjacent content that isn’t combative or salacious at the moment, or maybe we’re just still grieving the loss of the woman that sat on the English throne for seven decades. Either way, it’s easy to read Coronation Year through something of rose-colored royal glasses, but the Queen herself is technically the least important part of the story. 

The story follows three distinct characters and their perspectives, each of which lives at the Blue Lion Hotel in London. Edie Howard is the owner of the hotel, which has been in her family for 400 years and is struggling to stay afloat. (Like Elizabeth herself, Edie never expected to inherit the duty of being its caretaker.) But the fact that the building sits on the official coronation procession route is a godsend for her business, as it means she’ll be able to not only book all her rooms for once, but charge higher prices for the good view. Stella Donati is an Italian Jew who immigrates to London to chase a career as a photographer and to try and forget all she lost in the war—as well her own horrible memories of Hitler’s concentration camps. And James Geddes is a Scots bomb squad expert turned artist who has been commissioned to paint a portrait of the coronation procession even as he deals with his lingering PTSD and the overt racism he experiences because his of his mixed-race heritage.  As the days tick down to the coronation the trio—all residents at the Blue Lion—develop new relationships that range from friendship to romance.

Along the way, we also meet a variety of delightful secondary characters, from the eclectic group of long-term regulars who live at the Blue Lion to Stella’s charming colleagues at the magazine where she works, who all share similar scars from the war to her own. Robson is particularly skilled at weaving what ought to be disparate strands of story together, building a delightful tapestry out of the lives and relationships that intersect at the Blue Lion and drawing intriguing parallels between their journeys as they struggle with duty and regret. 

As the coronation approaches, a light mystery begins to unfold surrounding a series of threatening letters and confusion about missing hotel reservations that threaten the Blue Lion’s bottom line, but its inclusion feels more than a little contrived. And honestly, unnecessary. The culprit is fairly obvious from the beginning, and none of the story’s characters make particularly compelling crime solvers. This isn’t the sort of book that requires potentially life or death stakes to make it compelling, and though it’s nice to see everyone kind of come together to save the Blue Lion from an external threat, it’s also the weakest part of the novel.

Because at the end of the day, the heart of this story is found in the way its characters’ ordinary lives intersect with an extraordinary event—after all, there won’t be another coronation in England for over seventy years!—and how they are ultimately changed by being in proximity to it. Thankfully, the end of the story returns to what it does best, as sweet romances, career successes, and new beginnings abound.

Coronation Year is available now from William Morrow & Company. 

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin