That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

E.K. Johnston

Amidst the futuristic corsets, the Victorian manners, the clandestine kissing, and all the secret keeping, Johnston offers a vision of an alternate path history might have taken and, in so doing, casts a new light on the contemporary world.

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Speculative fiction from the acclaimed bestselling author of Exit, Pursued by a Bear and Star Wars: Ahsoka.
 
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.

★ "This witty and romantic story is a must-read.”—SLJ, starred review

★ "Compelling and unique—there's nothing else like it."—Booklist, starred review.

★ "[A] powerful and resonant story of compassion, love, and finding a way to fulfill obligations while maintaining one’s identity."—PW, starred review


Advance Galley Reviews

I had a hard time with this book. I just couldn't get into it. The writing was great, but it took me a while to understand that this was meant to be an alternate history so I felt confused for a good part of the first half. I pace of the story was too slow for my tastes.

I had a hard time with this book. At times, I found it easy to read and very enjoyable. Other sections were just plain confusing, and I found myself putting the book down for days at a time. A sweet story just confusing in parts.

There is no denying that E.K Johnston has a way with words and writes beautifully but this book unfortunately wasn't my cup of tea. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate a clever premise, well written and diverse characters and a good love story. Fair warning to potential readers: It start off slow and takes time to delve into the thick of the plot line. The whole first half of the book is like one big intro and gives an in depth glimpse into our characters, their personal dilemmas and their connections to each other. Somewhere in the middle of the book things finally pick up and a rather interesting love story unfolds which comes with its own set of issues. After finishing the story, I was left with many questions regarding the world portrayed. The basis of the society just didn't make too much sense to me, but its a fictional book meant for entertainment so I won't hold it against the author. I did appreciate that she put in a note after the book to explain more about the world she was envisioning. If any readers are confused as I was, I'd recommend skipping to the back and taking a moment to read her note. Although I cannot say I was a fan of this book, I can see how it would resonate well with many out there and become a popular in its own way. As long as the reader is patient, enjoys character development and can immerse themselves in the beautiful writing, there's a great chance in loving this book.

Like in the real world, this book is filled with different characters, details and problems. It's a complicated universe which can sometimes be overwhelmingly hard to follow. I did enjoy the second half of it because of love, duty and the little friendly triangle, but it's not enough. Somehow this book failed to reach me and make me empathize with the characters. I don't believe it's a bad book, I just think it's not for me and not for this particular time in my life.

I am not a picky reader and I will devour books as though they and not food were my sustenance. That being said I do not give many books a resounding endorsement simply because a book may be engaging without once pulling on my heart strings. This book is different. We all have difficult choices to make in life and so it is very easy to identify with the three main characters and even the sub characters. Once started I could not put the book down. I don't want to give anything away because I truly feel that this book is an experience, it's not just something to read. I don't want to spoil the experience for anyone by giving spoilers, but I have to say the ending was the biggest surprise of all. Also there was a problem with the beginnings of all the chapters. There where no first letters. Helena was Elena, Margaret was Argaret, etc. Also if the document could be slightly easier to see that would be nice. Zooming in on every page can get tedious. Thank you so much for this five star story, it's been too long since my last one.

First to Read sent me an advance copy of this book (thank you!) to review, and so even though I wasn't familiar with the author, I decided to read it. In my line of work as a teacher, it never hurts to read more YA, and the cover is gorgeous, so I was tempted. There were some good parts to this book, notably the twisty part (both the twist and the inclusion of a character like this) around Helena's chip. I also realized, reading the book, how little Canadian fiction US readers read, mostly as a result of the US market being dominated by US and UK authors (and perhaps even some books in translation - like from Japanese - before Canadian books). I learned some things about Canada reading the book, as well as about the history of the British Empire (which I didn't know not because of lack of access to info, but just because I've usually not focused on the British Empire from a British perspective). Which brings me to the things I disliked about this book. The description was interesting - it's a good question about what would have happened had the British Empire not collapsed, and particularly if it had been preserved through compromise and intermarriage instead of through war - but I found this book really romanticized it. Reading it, it was impossible to escape the notion that Johnston is basically an Anglophile but she's living in the 21st century without sticking her head totally in the sand, so she tried to concoct a scenario in which British culture could dominate the world without having to deal with the emotional guilt of being an empire. She naively assumes, in a classic white lady move, that if an empire is not actively launching wars against other countries, it's totally legit. It's not. The book actually bored me to tears with its erasure of other cultures, which were, under the premise of the preservation of the Empire, "integrated." The result is all English names, even for Hong Kong Chinese and Algonquin characters, and 16-year-olds in the future having genetic microchips, etc., while continuing to hold debut balls and getting married in their teens. (So, add insults to feminism to the book's problems.) I was also creeped out at how the servants in the book were portrayed - first, that they continued to exist at all, but second, that they all had been given names and behavior that stereotyped them in some of the worst possible ways. So on one side we have the main characters: Margaret, Helena, Elizabeth, August, and then on the other, the servants: Fanny, Eliza, Matilda, etc. The servants are always busting out with some inappropriate comment that illustrates how they don't get the complicated subtleties of the problem at hand, but yet they always love their masters like family and wish to stay on in their employment even if it means moving across the country/Empire with little consideration of any world they've built for themselves outside of their masters' lives. Then, one of the best parts of the book came only in one paragraph in the Afterward: the author imagined the states that seceded during the US Civil War instead having seceded in Haiti-style slave revolts that led to a former-slave-ruled country parts of what are currently the US. For me, that would have been a fascinating topic to explore, but it was apparently passed over to talk about debut balls and tea parties. Finally, I was alarmed to see Johnston's treatment of the character mentioned above in the twisty part written, it seems, as the result of humans' meddling too much with science in the affairs that should be left to God. While I loved the inclusion of such a character, this is a deeply-disturbing characterization, as some sort of sci-fi mutant. Yikes.

"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." Well... the first part of that sentence does seem to be true, it also isn't really delved into. Marriages seemed to be how the British empire was preserved, but that is touched upon and left alone. In short, the author created a BEAUTIFUL new world, but only lets the reader glimpse at it. It took me a good 200 pages to enjoy the book and (honestly) it seems like the first 150 pages were a different story than the last part of the novel. I understand building character before diving into conflict, but the characters weren't really built... just presented. It wasn't until the characters left Toronto that I felt the book became an enjoyable read. I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced copy of this book in exchange for reading and sharing my opinion.

While E.K. Johnston's writing commanded my attention in the first paragraph, it quickly faltered. I found it easy to get lost in some points and the narrative trudged on slowly. Not only that, but I was more interested in learning more about the world and it's alternate history (and I found the concept of Victorian culture in a modern tech setting to be interesting in itself) than the actual characters. They felt one-dimensional, at least to me, and were easily forgettable. Frankly, I would be much more invested in reading a fictionalized account of the failed American Revolution in this world and the aftermath for both parties. It was a major let down when I got 102 pages in and still didn't feel any stakes or sense the drama. If you want to get your reader invested, it should happen earlier. A nit-pick, but something that also struck me were the sections titled "Interludes". They weren't interludes to me, they were just more chapters but written more, and I'm sorry if this is harsh, lazily. More telling than showing. Honestly, the only thing that kept me reading was the simple fact that I was given privilege of receiving early access to the work in exchange for my thoughts as a member of this program. It was hard to finish. For me, it dragged. I feel mean saying this, but I had to force myself to keep reading and after awhile, it stopped being worth it. My apologies if I was being too hard, but this just wasn't the book for me.

First of all, I want to say I was absolutely thrilled to read an early galley of this book, and even with knowing basically nothing about it, I knew immediately from the cover, the title, and a brief synopsis, that I had to read it, and I did...inevitably. The story took a LONG time to warm up (which seems to ironically mirror the real cold, stoic Victorians of our own past), and it may have been a good half way through the book before I got truly invested. Johnston gives the reader this fascinating alternate world, one that was the main reason I wanted to continue to read on. Being a Brit out here in the States, a world where the British Empire was preserved, makes for a very different history lesson...! But that was exactly what I wanted so much more of - how did all of that happen? How do this society develop? There is a great deal of fascinating world-building that revolves around ideas of gender identity, religion, customs, and the use of new technology, but the book feels like too much of an introduction to it all; I needed to know more than what I got from the added maps and letters too, although I liked these additions. The pacing was a little jumpy, and the ending seemed rather abrupt, leaving the feeling that would be a sequel to come, as the tale of the three main characters seemed to just begin at the end of the book. It was by that point that I wanted to really know how on earth things would work! There is a great concept here and I think it really could have been fleshed out with so much more detail and character development. The next one maybe?

This story was slow and confusing at first and the characters were difficult to like and didn't hold my interest. As the plot unfolded the flow picked up and tweaked my interest. Set in a modern Victorian setting which online dating existed with DNA matches, debut balls, country dances and women's torturous undergarments. The plot centered on a love triangle with a twist, which could have been explored more fully. The Lizzie/Henry connection wasn't surprising, but a nice twist. The interactions were witty and descriptions were well done. Even though I was happy for the characters, the ending seemed too simple and perfect. A quick read as a final nod to summer.

 


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