by E.K. Johnston
Published on October 3, 2017 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Genres: Historical, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.
Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she'll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire's greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent 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 unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.
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I’m a bit up in the air with this book. There were elements I really loved and others I just didn’t get into, but nothing I truly disliked so I supposed that, overall, it was a decent read.
That Inevitable Victorian Thing is set in an alternate universe where there is the Empire, created by Queen Victoria years before as she changed the course of history through the marriage of her children to countries beyond Europe. This is a world where all people of all backgrounds are accepted and equality is encouraged and the world is perfect. . . can you see where there would be a problem here?
Now full disclaimer, I am not of a marginalized group and can’t speak to the rep in this book both in terms of the cultures mentioned and the sexualities of the protagonists, nor can I say much on the concept of colonization that permeates the entire alternate history. In terms of the latter, this history felt. . . wrong, if that makes sense. Throughout the book I felt that this history where the British Empire all but takes over the world with their ruling as well as their religion really offset what could have been a good book. I liked the characters enough to finish That Inevitable Victorian Thing but the world-building left a bad taste in my mouth.
One of the biggest parts of this story, this world really, is the Computer. Essentially, it’s a database that pairs people up with other people based on their genetics. Not in the arranged marriage way but more like who you’d be compatible with genetically. This becomes a larger plot point later on involving an intersex character (she self-identifies as female but in the Computer is listed as male) has to choose between her childhood friend who she loves and a new person in her life that she’s also fallen for. Not gonna lie, I really loved the F/F romance in this book. It felt equal parts teenage awkwardness that was all too realistic for me as well as very natural and real and beautiful.
As for the story itself, I can’t say I felt much for it in general. This is the tale of three characters (alternating between their perspectives throughout) and the summer they spend together. There aren’t high stakes. In fact, I’d describe this book as fairly passive. Which made it difficult for me to get into. I found I read more out of the habit of reading one page after the next rather than because I needed to know what happened. And then I get to the end and for the first time, I actually want to know how things turn out but I flipped the page and that was it. The book just. . . ends. I felt a bit cheated. It took 300+ pages for something to happen and once it does we’re left with nothing more? I don’t see any indication that this is part of a series so I’m assuming that was it.
I can’t say this book was bad because I didn’t dislike it, really, but I’m not fangirling over it either. And as I said, I can’t speak to the rep and some of the other elements presented so my experience reading it is certainly skewed because of that, but essentially I found nothing special here.