That Inevitable Victorian Thing | Book Review

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. 

So, when I was planning out my posts, I realized that this would be the book to write my final review of 2019 on and I was like “Aww, that’ll be a simple one.”

Was I right?

Absolutely not.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is pitched as “what if the British Empire didn’t fall, but treated the countries within it with respect, therefore leading to a present day with no racism or homophobia.” Very interesting concept I could see a lot of different authors taking different spins on.

What I think is a little more accurate pitch is “imagine if someone wanted to write a romance in the Victorian era with all those classic regency staples, but wanted to make it queer/have people of color involved, but didn’t want to have so much homophobia and racism coloring what would’ve been a cute, fluffy romance, so you go wild on world-building to make that happen.”

That’s what this book is and I kind of love it for that.

So, I obviously have to talk about the world-building first and it was both this novel’s biggest strength and weakness. Changing how the British Empire was created, by having princes and princess marry into the families of those countries, like allies and not colonies, has major implications on the rest of all history. This book does not have time to cover all of it and really focuses on a very small group of people.

But I also really enjoyed the setting. It was really interesting trying to imagine the world as described. Plus, it allowed for regency staples such as debut balls and dances for queer and characters of color, so I was a fan of that.

I think the time period was another thing I wanted a bit more clarity on. We never get a year as to when this all happening. The mention of technology means this is somewhat modern day, but we never get descriptions of what the technology looks like or what the character’s everyday outfits look like. This I feel was necessary as I didn’t know whether to imagine them in t-shirts and jeans when they were going casual, or the more Victorian clothing.

Now the characters. I really enjoyed the main three characters. I didn’t favor one over the other and I enjoyed their interactions and story lines. They are also all biracial, as the setting very much lends itself to characters not being 100% white.

Sometimes perspective would change between paragraphs, without a distinct line break to show it was another part. Those parts were a bit confusing, but more often than not, point of view switching was indicated by a new chapter or one of those clear line break separators (the word of which escapes me right now).

Kind of similar, but there are some “mixed media” elements between chapters that are intentionally out of order which only worked with some of them, others I would’ve preferred to be with slightly more relevant chapters. Obviously, they don’t have to be clearly related, but especially by the last third, they didn’t feel… relevant. I didn’t hate it, I just think they could’ve been arranged better to enhance the story.

I haven’t seen this a lot, so I’m going to be very clear with it here: there is an intersex character who falls in love with two different people and instead of pages of drama about fall in love with two different people, the three enter into a polyamourous relationship. I can’t speak to whether these parts were handled well, as I am neither intersex or poly, but there didn’t seem to be much glaring problems.

Now, there are two aspects that make rating this very hard. One is a very short line from Margaret and another is a main aspect of the book and plot for two characters.

The line was this: “Margaret’s political training had included lessons in how to determine ethnicity based on a person’s appearance, and therefore she could often guess a person’s heritage without asking.” (24)

I would have more of a problem if it said “race” because then we can assume Margaret is basing it on say, clothing style or accent? But still, I didn’t feel good reading that line.

Second of all, there’s a piece of machinery called the “-gnet” that reads and stores genetic code and allows people to search for people who are genetic matches. You don’t have to use it when dating but it’s there.

Now… I don’t know about you, but I feel this is a half of a step away from eugenics, which I don’t know if that author addressed. There are comments about the -gnet and true love and there were mixed media with comments from the Archbishop about the -gnet and God (which I kind of skipped because I wasn’t feeling). So, I don’t think Johnston’s intention was to imply eugenics, I think she wasn’t considering it. But, I’m also not an expert on this stuff, so I’d be interested in what other people said about that aspect.

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed this book. I know we should remove the idea of the “guilty pleasure” from our vocabulary, but that is kind of what this book is. It’s not perfect by any means necessary (not that any book truly is), but I had a lot of fun reading it and experiencing this world. Because of everything I’ve talked about, I’m not rating this book.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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