*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: That Inevitable Victorian Thing
Author: E.K. Johnston
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
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.
While the main premise of this book is admirable–a world of true equality in which there is no racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, etc.–this is a story that falls very flat. I think it’s because it’s attempting to do far too much in too little time, that this story lacks so much and is, in the end, a disappointment. There is little in the way of character development or plot flow. This story is choppy and shallow, not diving into the depths of what it really could be. Each chapter is broken by the insert of a quote, or letter, or expert which, in all reality, just serve to confuse the story more.
The world itself falls flat and it hard to follow–it’s a futuristic society that follows Victorian ideals and values yet strives to set people free of the restrictions that such a society traditionally upheld in the real world. The author really needed to spend more time developing this world and painting that picture for us, to really immerse us in this culture that’s been created. Instead, things are glazed over and presented quickly without any real time for us to digest how things are constructed. We aren’t really given a chance to understand the rules of this new world before the story is completely upended and the setting shifts–then we have to come to learn an entirely new world and way of life.
I was excited to see something rarely discussed in main-stream lit: the introduction of a female/female romance, as well as an intersex character. However, neither of these topics are discussed at any length. The author throws them at us like, “Here, look! See? My book is different. Let me show you,” without really exploring these topics at any length and with no foundation. The relationship between Margaret and Helena comes out of nowhere and the characters themselves have little to no introspection to explain their inner thoughts and feelings. This is especially confusing in Helena’s case because we meet her when she is deeply entrenched in a heterosexual relationship. In regards to the discover of the intersex characters (no spoilies), it’s something uncovered later on in the book, but is really glossed over. It’s mentioned, but not explained or explored. These were both prime windows of opportunity to discuss the LGBTQI community at length and really create a dialogue with readers, however both instances felt extremely forced and not genuine in the slights. This is quite a disappointment as there is much lost potential here.
I felt like this story was a whole lot of TELL and minimal to no SHOW. Everything is really shoved down the readers’ throats without coaxing us to believe in this world. There’s nothing tangible and nothing relatable about it. This is probably the biggest let down of a book that I’ve read in a while.
So, the best thing about this book? The cover! Just enjoy how pretty it looks. Don’t bother reading. Two stars to this one for the cover and the potential of an interesting premise.