Book Review: That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston
Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history. The imperial tradition of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage. But before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer of freedom and privacy in a far corner of empire. Posing as a commoner in Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an extraordinary bond and maybe a one-in-a-million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process.
Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved not by the cost of blood and theft but by the effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a surprising, romantic, and thought-provoking story of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.
Every so often a book will come along that I read and want to review to help promote it, but all I really want to say is “SO GOOD. GO READ IT.” Usually that’s because there is so much that happens in the plot and so many revelations and I don’t want to spoil anything—I just want to direct people to the book so we can freak out together.
THAT INEVITABLE VICTORIAN THING IS SO GOOD. GO READ IT.
Okay. I’ll attempt to do better than that.
Like history? Like alternative histories? Set in the near future? That feature multiethnic and LGBTQIA+ characters? Then this book is for you. I will admit that it took me a good 50 pages to really get into the story. The slow start was, for me, mostly just figuring out and remembering who the characters were, what their relationships were to each other, and what this new version of the world looked like. The story really picks up as it goes on, and about 1/3 of the way through, a detail is revealed that makes every relationship in the story all the more interesting.
If you’ve ever read any of other Johnston’s other books, you know she excels at world-building and at crafting dynamic characters, and this book is no exception to that. Margaret, Helena, and August are complicated people trying to figure out their path forward while realizing they all need to reevaluate their futures as events of this monumental summer unfold. And while the interplay and movement of various relationships satisfy, it is the relationship between Margaret and Helena that truly shines.
If you don’t want to know anything more about this book because you plan to read it, this is a good time to stop reading this review, particularly if don’t want to know more about the main relationships in the book.
Still here? Hi.
When Helena logs in to the Computer to find out more about her genetics and her matches, she sees a detail, previously unknown to her, that stops her in her tracks: Helena has XY chromosomes. She’s not immediately sure exactly what this means, but she does think that perhaps this may change things with August, who she has always planned to marry, knowing he wants a big family. Then there’s the fact that she’s chatting on the -gnet with someone—Helena has logged on as a boy (because of the XY thing; it is only later that she comes to know the term “intersex” and begins to understand herself better), calling herself Henry. The person she is chatting with, her genetic match, is also using an alias. She’s actually using multiple aliases.
Just when it seems like things could not get more convoluted, everything starts to fall into place. The characters begin to see the possibilities of their new paths, including a plan that may give all three main characters what they want in life.
This clever, smart, and romantic story is a fantastic exploration of identities, futures, and obligations. Readers who push through the somewhat slow start to the story will be swept up in this interesting near-future world and likely surprised by the resolution the three young adults settle on. Richly imagined and completely compelling.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/03/2017
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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