Julian Comstock  by Robert Charles Wilson

    Set in a post collapse, imperial United States returned to 19th-century technology and mores. Julian Comstock, the disgraced nephew of the tyrannical American president, grows up in a small town in what was formerly northern Canada. Adam Hazzard, Julian's working-class friend, and Sam Godwin, a bluff old retainer and secret Jew, struggle to keep Julian alive despite his uncle's hatred and Julian's proclivity for annoying the repressive Dominion Church. When Julian is drafted to fight the invading Dutch in Labrador, exaggerated tales of his heroism, written by would-be novelist Adam, catapult the young aristocrat to unwanted fame. Written with the eloquence and elegance of a Victorian novel, this thoughtful tale combines complex characters, rousing military adventure and a beautifully realized, unnerving future.

In 2172 the United States of America has become a neo-Victorian oligarchy, with the introduction of feudal indenture, a rigid class-hierarchy, property-based representation in the federal United States Senate, presidential hereditary succession, establishment of the "Dominion of Jesus Christ" (premised on fundamentalist Christianity and organizationally based at Colorado Springs) and the abolition of the Supreme Court. With the evacuation of Washington DC due to an unspecified cataclysm, Manhattan, New York has become the national capital. The United States has also annexed most of Canada and comprises sixty states, but is fighting German-controlled Mitteleuropa ("the Dutch") in the contested territory of Labrador. Climate change and peak oil have caused technological reversion, exacerbated by the Dominion's repressive social policies.

Deklan Comstock, the hereditary President, has already arranged the death of his brother Bryce. The latter's widow, Emily, sends her son Julian to the remote rural western boreal district of Athabaska, where the egalitarian and free-thinking young man befriends Adam Hazzard, a fledgling writer. The two travel east by railroad, but are press-ganged into the "Army of the Laurentians", and are sent to the campaigns in Labrador. Julian becomes a war hero and foils his uncle's machinations. During the celebrations in Manhattan that follow, his actual identity is disclosed. A coup d'etat deposes his uncle and Julian is appointed President. He proceeds to upset the status quo through liberalising censorship policy, rehabilitating the image of Charles Darwin (the authorities have suppressed the ideas of Darwinian evolution in this world) and reimposing separation of church and state as public policy. He also emerges as gay, falling for Magnus, a Unitarian-style minister.

Unfortunately, the Dominion and the armed forces mutiny. Julian and Magnus catch "the Pox" and die alongside one another, but Adam and Calyxa, his equally free-thinking and feminist wife, escape to Mediterranean France, where Adam writes his friend's posthumous biography twenty years later, in 2192.