I really want to rate this book higher, but I can’t. Initially, I enjoyed it but soon, the plot became stagnant and the ending just threw me for a loop. Not that I didn’t like it. It was…interesting, to say the least, but I can only foresee a handful of problems with it.
Title: That Inevitable Victorian Thing
Author: E.K. Johnston
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Release date: October 3, 2017
Genre: Young adult, sci-fi
Length: 330 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis (from Goodreads): “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 descendant 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.”
I think I have a love/hate relationship with Johnston’s books. I loved Exit, Pursued by a Bear, so I went into A Thousand Nights thinking I would love it, too. Well, I didn’t. So I also went into this book thinking I would love. I mean, it has elements I would normally love, especially since it’s an alternate history of Queen Victoria’s descendants–and that queen is one of my favorites in British history.
The truth is, this book started out grand. It was unique and different, and not something I normally read–that is, the alternate history part. I liked there was the mix of duty and pleasure, being tied down by your name and title, but also the desire to be free from it and what the future holds for you. And yet… This wasn’t the turn I thought it would take.
So I could praise Johnston for including diverse characters. The main character herself is biracial, a white father and a black mother. Helena, we learn, also has a story of her own, but if I say what it is, it’ll be spoilers so I won’t. But I will say that this is the first book I’ve read with a character like her. Then there’s Andrew, who is half-Irish and half-Chinese, or, as the author calls him Irish and Hong Kong Chinese. This confused me, and I think mainly due to the lack of world-building. The setting itself is in Canada. Okay, sure, cool. I haven’t come across many books that take place in Canada. But this is where it gets confusing: there’s brief mentions of an America that’s split. It’s not the United States we know today but… how? I don’t know. Does that have anything to do with why Andrew is more specifically Hong Kong Chinese? Is…that the only city in China now? Why not call him Chinese? So strange to me, and there’s not enough background information for me to understand why.
I liked the writing style as it was easy to read and I was engrossed in the world despite its confusions. The idea of having a chip that you receive on the night of your debut (which, I found funny that the author would choose to include this archaic element in her story since the real British royal family has done away with debut balls since the late 1950s (or early 1960s, I can’t remember) which you then plug into the -gnet (genetic Internet) and find your “match” was an interesting concept. Personally, I would have liked to see more of it, especially since Helena’s mother is one empire’s of the “greatest placement geneticists.” There wasn’t too much discussion about her work.
I sympathized with each characters’ struggle as broad as it was. I was prone to like this book a lot more but…alas. The ending simply didn’t do it for me. No one compromised. Fine. I like that about them, but due to the revelation about Helena, I wanted there to be tension between her and her parents. Victoria-Margaret, Helena, and August decided what they wanted to do and then…that’s it? No confrontation with Helena’s parents? No asking Victoria-Margaret’s parents? Hm.
I think E.K. Johnston isn’t an author for me, and that’s fine.