“The Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown” is a gaslight fantasy focusing on the relationship between Queen Victoria and British statesman Benjamin Disraeli. Of the pair, Yolen writes, “If that odd friendship came out of mutual admiration, mutual interests, or magic, it is not for me to say. I only speculate.”
Why, they are quite barbaric,” the queen said to her prime minister, making small talk since she wasn’t actually certain where Zululand was. Somewhere in deepest, darkest Africa. That much at least she was certain. She would have to get out the atlas. Again. She had several of Albert’s old atlases, and the latest American one, a Swinton.
Thinking about the problem with an atlas, and how—unlike the star charts, which never varied—it kept changing with each new discovery on the dark continent, she sniffed into her dainty handkerchief. She was not sniffing at Mr Disraeli, though, and she was quite careful to make that distinction by glancing up at him and dimpling. It was important that he never know how she really felt about him. Truth to tell, she was unsure herself.
“Barbaric in our eyes, certainly, ma’am,” he said, his dark eyes gazing back at her.
She did not trust dark eyes. At least not that dark. Give her good British blue any day. Or Albert’s blue. But those dark eyes… she shuddered. A bit of strangeness in the prime minister’s background for all that she’d been assured he was an Anglican.
“What do you mean, Mr Disraeli?” she asked. She thought she knew, but she wanted to hear him say it. Best to know one’s enemies outright. She considered all prime ministers the enemy. After all, they always wanted something from her and only seemed to promise something in return. Politics was a nasty business and the Crown had to seem to be above it while controlling it at all times.
A tightrope, really. …