I hope it will be more entertaining than the book itself (that wouldn’t be hard). It also saves you having to read it yourself. You’re welcome.
(Yes, spoilers, but for a really old book that I suggest you don’t read.)
“The Reader” is me, not a generic reader, hence the male pronoun.
A Long Prologue, set in 1920: Establishes a character, and some ideas, that will have no importance in the rest of the book.
A Young Man: is well-educated, but hasn’t inherited money; gets married; has an accident three years later; is an invalid for two years; runs through what little money he and his wife have; suddenly has a 12-year-old crippled son; in desperation steals a loaf of bread for his starving family; is beaten by the baker, who doesn’t want to lose the business that he would have to lose in order to appear in court if he called the police; dies; turns out to have inherited an enormous fortune from a distant relative, whose lawyers couldn’t locate the family, but this has no impact on what happens next; becomes a rallying point for a movement for a universal basic income; and vanishes from the story.
Some Wealthy Bankers: meet in secret and agree that, although they of course wouldn’t use their power and influence for their own advantage, it’s OK to use it in the cause of improving society. They’ve recently used it to prevent Basically World War I (even the timing is close), because of course financiers don’t ever profit from war. They give several very long speeches, the upshot of which is that poverty can’t be allowed to continue; and vanish from the story.
The Reader: Shakes his head at the virtuous bankers.
Chapter I: Is set in the year 2000.
Not Much: has changed, except gradual improvements. (See Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill for a similar example of dodging prediction of the future.) Except that a great many things have changed a lot, most notably the position of women in society.
The Author: infodumps for pages about this and other improvements.
The British Empire: is glorious, hurrah.
The Irish Question: is settled when the wealthy British dominions bully Britain into being just to the poor Irish.
The Main Character: is finally introduced, 14% of the way through the book. She’s Mary Sue, but her name is Hilda Richmond Fitzherbert. She’s 23, and practically perfect in every way, a member of the Federal Parliament and Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs.
The Countess of Middlesex: comes in and urges Hilda to marry her (the Countess's) brother, Lord Reginald Paramatta.
Hilda: won’t have a bar of it. She doesn’t love him, or anyone. Oh, all right, she’ll see him.
The Countess: leaves.
Hilda: talks to herself: she’s attracted to him, yes, but she doesn’t trust him.
The Reader: thinks he knows where this is going.
The Reader: is mistaken.
The Prime Minister: is a woman, Irish, practically perfect in every way; comes in and confirms Hilda’s opinion of Lord Reginald as insincere and selfish, though a brave soldier.
The Two Women: discuss the question of Imperial succession.
The Author: says “A short explanation is necessary to make the case clear”; explains for pages.
The Reader: clutches his forehead.
The Constitution: says that the male descendants of the Emperor have precedence over the females in the succession; this is the only remaining legal difference in men’s and women’s status. (Incidentally, this was recently changed, in the real world, for the British royal family, and a similar change is underway for the peerage.)
The Government: wants the constitution changed, because equality.
The President of the United States: is a woman; wants the Emperor to marry her daughter; wants the constitution changed, because equality.
The Emperor: doesn’t want the constitution changed, because the President’s daughter has red hair and he doesn’t want to marry her (he's a ginger bigot), and besides he doesn’t think messing with the constitution sets a good precedent.
The Prime Minister: wonders whether the Emperor prefers another young woman, hint, hint, Hilda.
Hilda: doesn’t get the hint; thinks there are points to be made on both sides of the succession question; is summoned to see the Emperor.
Chapter II: Finally arrives, a fifth of the way through the book.
The Emperor: is practically perfect in every way; asks Hilda her opinion on the succession question; is concerned that the ruler should be able to lead the Empire in war, and of course assumes without discussion that a woman couldn’t do that and wouldn’t want to anyway, despite this being a feminist utopia in which women are equal in every possible way. Except for inheriting the Empire, and leading in war.
Hilda: is forthright about her opinion, but won’t advise him to go against his conscience.
Chapter III: Introduces the villain, Lord Reginald.
The Villain: is practically perfect in every way.
Hilda: turns him down like a sheet.
Lord Reginald: doesn’t understand that no means no; is angry; refuses the posting to London that Hilda has arranged to get him as far from her as possible; does so in such a way as to provoke a political issue.
The Author: has a long digression about how the military is organised; talks about how everyone is educated in science and engineering now; digresses from his digression to tell the story of an earlier Prince of Wales who didn’t believe in learning dead languages because there was no point and it was just snobbery anyway; explains how the digression was necessary to explain how the volunteer forces were so capable scientifically, which has no relevance to anything.
The Reader: rolls his eyes.
The Prime Minister: neatly defuses Lord Reginald’s political bomb by making the circumstances of his refusal of the post confidential.
Chapter IV: Consists of more back-and-forth about changing the constitution
The Emperor: deliberately doesn’t mention the issue in his speech at the opening of Parliament.
Lord Reginald: brings up the question anyway and forces a vote. He controls about 50 MPs who are not part of the Government or Opposition.
The Leader of the Opposition: is a woman; joins with Lord Reginald since she doesn’t want the constitution changed.
Lord Reginald: gives a long speech. No, a really long speech. Loooong.
The Prime Minister: kicks Lord Reginald’s ass in debate, and his resolution is lost.
Chapter V: Is about whether the Government resigns or not.
The Prime Minister: submits her resignation to the Emperor because they nearly lost the vote.
The Emperor: asks the Leader of the Opposition to form a government.
The Leader of the Opposition: won’t ask Lord Reginald to help her, because she doesn’t like him either; says she can’t form a government.
The Emperor: is surprised she hasn’t talked to Lord Reginald; reacts in such a way that the Leader of the Opposition admires him as practically perfect in every way; decides, in a long interior monologue, not to ask Lord Reginald to form a government; asks the Prime Minister to withdraw her resignation, which she does.
The Public: are happy with the outcome.
Lord Reginald: is not; swears revenge on the Prime Minister and is determined that Hilda will grovel at his feet and implore him to marry her; stops short of twirling his moustache by this much.
Chapter VI: Details how Lord Reginald attempts his revenge.
Hilda’s sister: is practically perfect in every way; acts as her secretary.
Lord Montreal: is practically… you know the chorus by now; has grown up with the sisters; has information about his commanding officer, Lord Reginald, who is forming a treasonous secret society.
Hilda: is annoyed that she has to deal with Lord Reginald, AGAIN; is so over him; sends for Colonel Laurient.
Colonel Laurient: is… you guessed it; is Jewish on his mother’s side (the Author is Jewish); has inherited lots of money from his aunt; is a great soldier; is a close friend of the Emperor, and secretly leads both his bodyguard and his secret service.
Hilda: is wise to this, because she’s so smart; gives him the skinny.
The Author: “Some explanation is necessary…”
The Reader: groans.
The Author: infodumps about how some parts of the Constitution not only can’t be changed, but can’t even be discussed, because there must be limits to liberty and free speech.
The Author: “It may be convenient here to state some of the broad features of the governing and social system…”
The Reader: “NOOOOOOO!”
The Author: infodumps about universal income some more, with reference to labour-saving devices, taxation, trade protection, estate duty, the importance of not inheriting so much wealth that you wouldn’t have any ambition to work, how nobody really minded and everyone was wealthier than ever, how the Dominion Governments and the Imperial Government split the tax take amicably, and how a large reserve fund had been accumulated and some people were suggesting that less tax would be nice. “This has been a long digression, but it was necessary to the comprehension of our story.”
The Digression: is about 5% necessary to the comprehension of the story.
Colonel Laurient: has cause to suspect that Lord Reginald’s group is treasonous, but no proof; thinks Hilda is the only possible person to infiltrate the group and get proof, because she’s so smart.
Hilda: is up for it.
The Meeting Room: is set up in such a way that you can meet there and not be overheard.
The Meeting: will be attended in cloaks and hats to conceal people’s identities.
Colonel Laurient: has a plan which involves “artificial magnetism”.
Hilda: mentions that she discovered that. She’s so smart. (This is the only mention of her doing anything other than politics, and we don't actually see her doing much of that either, but... she's just so awesome, she can do anything.)
The Cloaked Meeting: commences.
The Speeches: start out being about the taxes being too damn high; get gradually more treasonous until someone suggests that Australia should form its own Empire with Lord Reginald as Emperor.
One of the Organisers: shuts this down, because his name isn’t supposed to come up, but gets the delegates to take off their hats and cloaks one at a time and declare in favour of an Australian Empire.
Hilda: when her turn comes, declares herself not in favour.
The Crowd: want to kill her.
Lord Reginald: says no, she shall live on one condition, leave her to him.
The Reader: has a shrewd idea of what the one condition is.
Hilda: leaps onto an insulated dais and presses two buttons.
Words: “are insufficient to describe the effect”; proceed to describe the effect.
The First Button: freezes everyone in place by “magnetic electricity”.
The Second Button: turns on the lights, showing everyone’s faces with frozen expressions, mostly “fear, terror, cruelty or revenge…greed, thwarted ambition, personal malignity, and cruelty horrible to observe”, and in the case of Lord Reginald, “triumphant revenge and brutal love terrible to look at”.
A Third Button: summons the gendarmes, who, under Hilda’s instructions, photograph everyone but only arrest the people in the top three rows.
Hilda: is overcome with emotion and must be almost carried into her house by Colonel Laurient, despite being a modern, equal woman and yada yada.
Chapter VII: is about Hilda being honoured.
The Emperor: sends her a portrait of himself surrounded with diamonds.
Hilda: instead of thinking “what a knob,” kisses it and then blushes; is the hero of the hour.
Lord Reginald: because he wasn’t in the top three rows (since he was heading for Hilda), didn’t get arrested and has got away.
The Emperor: wants to make her a Countess.
Hilda: thinks she isn’t rich enough.
The Prime Minister: reminds her that a project that her grandfather put in motion, which has been running for 50 years, which promises to make her a millionaire, is almost completed.
Hilda: had forgotten about that.
The Reader: finds this hard to believe.
Hilda’s sister Maude: has a thing for Lord Montreal.
Chapter VIII: Consists entirely of an infodump about air-cruisers.
The Author: “We trust our readers will not be wearied because it is necessary to give them at some length an explanation concerning the aerial machines to which reference has so often been made as air-cruisers.”
The Reader: is wearied.
The Explanation: is not necessary.
Explosives: are the secret; blow up some prominent people as inventors try to figure out how to use them.
The Secret: is finally discovered by a young Jewish woman based on ancient knowledge.
The Young Woman: is the aunt of Colonel Laurient; leaves him a bundle.
Chapter IX: Is mostly about gold.
The Author: digresses on the cultivation of pumice-stone land, the island of Antarctica, etc., then says, “An account of the river-works will not be unacceptable.”
The Reader: “Yes, actually, it will. Shut up.”
The Author: tells us, at length, all about the river-works, which are a scheme by Hilda’s grandfather to divert the waters of a river which has gold in it so as to get at the gold.
The Gold: is worth millions; unaccountably does not ruin the economy or crash the price of gold.
Hilda and Maude: are worth millions.
Lord Montreal: has sold his stake in the scheme to Colonel Laurient; won’t marry Maude out of pride.
Colonel Laurient: says it was only a loan, don’t worry about it, just pay me what you borrowed plus interest and it’s all good.
Lord Montreal: proposes to Maude.
Hilda: leaves the room, “an example the historian must follow”.
Chapter X: Advances the plot, as a nice change of pace.
The Emperor: makes Hilda the Duchess of New Zealand.
The Prime Minister: asks her to be Lord President of the Board of Education.
Hilda: decides to take the waters at Rotomahana, Te Aroha and Waiwera before going to London (where the Parliament is moving next, thus rather invalidating Hilda's move of attempting to send Lord Reginald to London so he wouldn't bother her, but plot consistency is not the Author's strong point).
The Author: goes on for several pages about hot springs.
A Yacht: is moored offshore at Waiwera.
A Note: purports to be from the Prime Minister and invites Hilda onto the yacht.
Lord Reginald: is actually the owner of the yacht; stops short of saying “Aha, my proud beauty!” and twirling his moustache by this much.
Hilda: turns him down like a sheet.
The Author: tells instead of shows regarding Lord Reginald’s character.
Lord Reginald: tries to force Hilda to marry him, apparently still confused on the whole “no means no” issue.
Hilda: jumps off the yacht.
Colonel Laurient: is injured while rescuing her in an aircraft.
Lord Reginald: tries, and fails, to shoot the aircraft down.
Hilda: is uninjured, but her nerves are much shaken and for many days she fears to be left alone, despite being courageous and practically perfect and a modern, equal woman.
Colonel Laurient: has a thing for Hilda, but, being a better man than Lord Reginald, doesn’t make an issue of it.
Chapter IX: Is mostly about the Irish Question and has little if anything to do with the plot.
Maude: marries Lord Montreal.
The Author: is snide about the London Lord Mayor’s Show, the effeminacy of Londoners (yes, that’s the word he uses), mentions that since London is lighted and heated with electricity instead of gas and coal it’s a much nicer city, and describes the opening of Parliament with the announcement of a tax cut.
The Prime Minister: is Irish, remember; at a celebration in Dublin, gives a long speech about how the Irish Question was settled.
Long Speech: is long.
Chapter XII: Shows the British Empire going to war with the USA.
The President of the USA: has invaded Canada, supposedly over a fisheries dispute but actually because she didn’t like the Emperor turning down her daughter.
The Emperor: is significantly pissed off, but also excited at the prospect of being able to have a war and show those Yankees what’s what; decides he’s going to invade the USA; appoints Colonel Laurient as his aide-de-camp; pretends he’s sending ships to Canada but actually sends them to America; describes his plan at length.
Chapter XIII: Is about the war; contains the most ridiculous bits in the whole book.
Hilda: is just so awesome, the Author can’t even.
Phoebe Buller: is her secretary now that Maude is married, because married women apparently can’t work or something, despite feminist utopia.
A Lawyer: has a thing for Phoebe; is mentioned only to be dismissed.
Captain Garstairs: also has a thing for Phoebe.
Mary Maudesley: is from a poor background but really good at the whole nursing thing; is appointed as head of the ambulance corps.
Captain Garstairs and Phoebe: go to interview Miss Maudesley; are impressed; get engaged before Garstairs goes off to war.
The Author: “At the risk of wearying our readers with a monotony of events, another scene in the same mansion must be described.”
The Reader: sighs.
The Emperor and Hilda: get engaged before the Emperor goes off to war.
New York: falls to the Imperial forces quickly and with few casualties.
Washington: falls to the Imperial forces quickly and with few casualties.
The President: is captured; goes with Colonel Laurient, along with her daughter and staff; is named Mrs. Washington-Lawrence, apparently through a failure of the Author’s imagination, since the city of Washington and the St Lawrence River are mentioned in close proximity.
A Hundred Thousand British Troops: head from New York to the Canadian frontier to take the American army in a pincer movement.
Lord Reginald: hasn’t been arrested for treason, for abducting Hilda, for firing at the aircraft, or for causing injury to the Emperor’s best friend/head bodyguard/chief of intelligence, “because the publicity would have been most repugnant” to Hilda.
The Reader: is incredulous; wonders if the Author has something against the justice system, since this is the second time something like this has come up, not to mention Phoebe’s rejected suitor, the lawyer.
Lord Reginald: is with the force from New York; needs to communicate with the Canadians.
The Air-Cruisers: can’t land at night in unknown territory.
Radio: hasn’t been invented (fair enough).
Semaphore or Morse using lights on the aircraft, or for that matter from the hills which are about to be mentioned: would make sense, and so would briefing the Canadian commander in advance, since this was the Emperor's plan from the start, but the Author wants to show Lord Reginald being heroic, so shut up. Writing is hard.
Each Man: carries “an electric battery of intense force, by means of which he could either produce a strong light, or under certain conditions a very powerful offensive and defensive weapon.” They don't use these lights to signal the Canadians.
Lord Reginald: is militarily awesome, despite being so rapey, and is allowed to lead the 50-man force; climbs some hills and looks over the American and Canadian camps; sneaks most of the way round the American camp, but has to cross at a point where it’s only half a mile in width, and then go two miles to the Canadian camp.
The Troops: march in two lines, with “flexible platinum aluminium electrical wire” stretched between them which will zap anyone who touches it. Worst. Melee weapon. Ever.
Captain Garstairs: is second in command.
Fifty Men: sneak up on the Americans until they’re three feet from a sentry without being noticed, then zap the sentry.
The Author: “Then ensued a commotion almost impossible to describe.”
The Author: proceeds to describe the commotion.
Lord Reginald and Garstairs: run through the camp, zapping nine Americans as they go.
The Americans: can’t shoot much in case they hit their own men.
The Troops: lose 20 men out of the 50 while running through the camp; break out onto the plain between the two camps.
The Americans: turn on powerful lights and start shooting; apparently aren’t very good shots; only get another 10 men.
The Canadians: instead of shooting out the Americans’ lights so that their allies can’t be seen and shot, turn on lights of their own for no obvious reason.
Captain Garstairs: is hit in the leg with 100 yards to go; says “Good-bye, Reginald. Tell Phoebe Buller -”.
Lord Reginald: coolly picks up Garstairs and carries him into the Canadian camp.
The Americans: are good sports and don’t shoot at him; cheer when he makes it.
Captain Garstairs: is looked after by Mary Maudesley; doesn’t lose the leg.
Lord Reginald: gives the Canadians the skinny; flies out in a plane, which The Reader at first thought contradicted what was said earlier, but that was just that a plane couldn’t land in unknown country at night. Though the Canadians had lights, so… No, don’t overthink it. Lord Reginald needed to be a hero, and because the Emperor is so militarily awesome that there was hardly any fighting there had to be a contrived incident for Lord Reginald to be a hero in, so shut up. Writing is hard.
The American Commander-in-Chief: “knew nothing of the British army in his rear.” Despite the fact that a British force of 50 men had just come from there and broken through to the Canadians. It had “occasioned him surprise; but his mind did not dwell on it in the midst of the immediate responsible duties he had to perform.” He also hasn't noticed the suspicious lack of news from Washington and New York. Fail.
The Emperor: personally leads the ass-kicking party; lets the Americans surrender instead of wiping them out.
Chapter XIV: Is about how Americans are not very patriotic.
The President: isn’t popular because she’s got the US invaded and trounced; considers resigning; gets engaged to the captain of the British flagship where she’s being held.
The President’s Daughter: gets engaged to the Admiral, one-upping her mother.
The Emperor: is relieved to be rid of the ginger, and gives them both diamonds as wedding gifts.
The US: has to pay six hundred million pounds (which they borrow from money-lenders), and salute the British flag.
The People of New York and New England: vote four to one to secede from the US and join Canada, because Americans love to be conquered and aren’t particularly patriotic.
The Money: is given back to the new states as a goodwill gesture. Though they will still have to pay it back, because it's a loan, so the winners here are clearly the moneylenders.
Chapter XV: Actually has some good bits in it.
The Emperor: is militarily awesome, because trouncing ill-prepared incompetents with a vastly superior force is really hard, especially when you haven't set up any way to communicate between the two parts of your force and have to get 40 men killed to pass the word; announces his engagement to Hilda.
The People: are basically OK with this.
Hilda: is going to give her new mansion to Phoebe and now-Colonel Garstairs, because she won’t need it when she’s married; is writing to her sister; looks up and with dismay beholds the face of Lord Reginald Paramatta; asks him how dare he thus intrude, though she feels a bit sorry for him because he looks ill and careworn.
Lord Reginald: is dying for the want of her; still hasn’t grasped “no means no”.
Hilda: trims him up, reminding him that love “seeks the happiness of the object it cherishes, not its misery.” Go, Hilda.
Lord Reginald: is under the impression that she was into him once.
Hilda: corrects this error in unambiguous terms.
Lord Reginald: is crushed.
Hilda: tells him that if he loved her, he would have the strength to sacrifice his urges to her happiness; compliments his courage; urges him to be “brave now morally as well as physically”.
Lord Reginald: can’t do it, he is here to carry her away.
Hilda: screams and flees.
A Bearded Man: enters and is revealed to be Laurient; sends Hilda off to safety and confronts Lord Reginald; has been having Lord Reginald followed since he tried to abduct Hilda last time; challenges him to a duel, because this is still a thing in the 21st century.
The Two Men: shoot each other.
Lord Reginald: is dying; asks Hilda’s forgiveness and her prayers.
Hilda: grants this.
Lord Reginald: dies.
Colonel Laurient: dies three days later; is greatly mourned by Hilda and the Emperor.
Hilda and the Emperor: marry, a month later than planned because of mourning for Laurient.
An Epilogue: Is set 20 years later.
The Imperial Couple: have had five children, but the eldest, a son, dies of a bite from a rabid dog, and the two youngest die in early childhood, leaving two. (Probably fairly typical for a Victorian family.)
Princess Victoria: is now the eldest; is practically perfect in every way, and would be an ideal heir; is her father’s favourite; has reached her majority.
Prince Albert Edward: is sickly; isn’t interested in public affairs; won a gold medal at the age of 16 for a paper on psychology he sent in anonymously to the Imperial Institute; is his mother’s favourite; has no interest in the military; is about to reach his majority.
The Emperor and Empress: have switched views on the question of female succession; don’t discuss it; are slightly estranged because of this, though they still love each other.
Phoebe Buller: is now Leader of the Opposition, apropos of nothing much.
The Emperor: won’t change the succession without his son’s consent, however much he thinks his daughter would do a better job.
The Emperor and Empress: have a long discussion.
Hilda: “I will not allow you to underrate yourself. You are faultless in my eyes. No human being has ever had cause to complain of you.”
No Other Wife Ever: said that to her husband.
Prince Albert: comes in and joins the conversation; was about to raise the subject himself; though he doesn’t usually read the papers, has heard that there’s strong public opinion that his sister should be the heir; agrees; gets his sister in.
Princess Victoria: really is awesome, the Author can’t even.
Everyone: yaks on for a few more pages, mainly going over the same ground again; agrees to change the succession.
The Author: without transition, talks about why he wrote the book.
The Reader: puts it down with relief.
(If you enjoyed the format for the plot summary, I stole it from Cleolinda Jones.)