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That Inevitable Victorian Thing

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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.

330 pages, Hardcover

First published October 3, 2017

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About the author

E.K. Johnston

20 books2,414 followers
E.K. Johnston had several jobs and one vocation before she became a published writer. If she’s learned anything, it’s that things turn out weird sometimes, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, that and how to muscle through awkward fanfic because it’s about a pairing she likes.

You can follow Kate on Twitter (@ek_johnston) to learn more about Alderaanian political theory than you really need to know, or on Tumblr (ekjohnston) if you're just here for pretty pictures.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,169 reviews
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,095 reviews17.7k followers
February 17, 2019
In summary: it's a book about a world in which colonialism ended before its true impact could set in, a world in which brown people and disabled people and queer people don't have to fight for our very right to breathe. And yes, it definitely would never have happened, but it was fucking awesome to think about the world if it had - to wish for a world without the legacy of decades of systematic oppression and scientific racism. This book has a fundamental sense of hope to it, a fundamental wish for a better world.

It's fair to critique the book's fundamental erasure of the history of marginalization and colonialism; after all, the very idea of this world does erase the hardships of marginalized people. But honestly, all my concerns about this were wiped away by the tone of the book itself and the final note. I'd also highly recommend giving the author's note at the back of this book a read. Johnston's thoughts on the complexities of writing this book were exactly what I wanted. Though I don't come from a colonized country, and the impact of colonialism is something I will never fully understand, this book managed to come off to me as a celebration of diversity rather than an erasure of a legacy.

To me, it felt like the best kind of escapism. Imagine being in Victorian England but not being, you know, despised for your race and sexuality and religion. I am so about that. It's as if we're putting ourselves into narratives that aren't our own, that never would be, and it made me so unbelievably happy.

As a disclaimer, I'm a huge fan of E.K. Johnston and have basically enjoyed everything she's published. But I genuinely loved this book. While the first 35% is fairly boring, once I got past that initial slow section, the book picked up to the point where I finished in a day. My initial slow pace might not be the book's fault, though. I honestly think I would've liked this slightly better if not for Edelweiss' major formatting issues. (You know I love you all.)

What makes this book stand out to me is the complex, interesting worldbuilding. I like the idea of a world with Victorian culture, but with technology and more modern social ideas. First of all, there's the diversity; character are described as wearing hijabs and kimonos to balls, which was lovely and creative. This world celebrates diversity in a big way. There are little details everywhere in the book that place it firmly into history. Alan Turing is mentioned at one point getting the recognition he deserved, rather than, y'know, being murdered for his sexuality. Basically, this totally fueled my history nerd self. (As near as I can figure out, after Queen Victoria, Victoria II ruled, and then her son Albert. None of this has to do with my review, I just found everything really intriguing.) I want to reread this book just to catch every detail of the world.

I also really enjoyed our ensemble cast of characters. That Inevitable Victorian Thing is narrated by three characters: Helena, Margaret, and August. Helena is a middle-class citizen staying in Toronto with her Aunt Teresa and her vivacious cousin Elizabeth. Margaret is a princess disguised as a more lower-class citizen for her debut. August Callaghan is Helena's fiancé, who has problems of his own. I really liked this trio of characters; they're all complex and dimensional leads to this book.

I especially liked the ending. It's cute and feels very true to the characters. Again, I can't really spoil, but it's totally not what you expect in the best way. 

VERDICT: This is one of the most heartwarming scifi books I've ever read, and I can't recommend it enough. Definitely check this out for the less-terrible-yet-still-historical worldbuilding.

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Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,404 reviews11.7k followers
November 21, 2017
I guess I respect the author's desire to show a world where no inequality of any kind exists, but execution of this premise is so... limp in every respect.

In this alternative (or, more correctly, utopian) vaguely defined British Empire all traces of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc. are completely gone and everybody lives in a state of mutual respect and harmony. This approach also spills into interpersonal relationships, where it means that nobody feels jealousy, and the concept of fidelity is never mentioned.

There could have been a good story made out of this premise (well, Le Guin kind of did it in her The Dispossessed), but in this particular novel the romances are of the blandest kind, the plot mostly ridiculous, world building patchy at best and the whole approach to establishing this alternative world is naïve and divorced from human psychology.
Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews192 followers
November 17, 2019
DNF at 40% because I have no patience left and this is bothering me so much. Also, I made a goal for this year to DNF books that are not working for me. So, here we are.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a book whose premise is basically "what if colonialism didn't bring everywhere racism, homophobia and other similar problems", and it's not an easy concept to explore at all. If not an inherently flawed concept, but I had heard good things from other reviewers and was curious, so I gave it a chance, and... this is not how you do worldbuilding.

The worldbuilding in That Inevitable Victorian Thing lacked consistency and had a lot of unexplored unfortunate implications:

•This is, supposedly, a society in which racism isn't (as much?) a thing. And yet, the attitude of the Empire towards people of color is "let's collect them all", it felt almost fetishistic. Look how progressive this alt-history sci-fi monarchy is! Yes, having a multiracial queen is cool, but was it the way to do it?
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.
...what about no?
Also, the Empire's traditions are still strictly white British ones, because of course.

•This book (in which supposedly colonialism wasn't as terrible) is set in Canada and yet there are no native characters - not even one - in the first 40% of the book. Why? This isn't just erasing the hardships of marginalized people, this is pretending they don't exist. Was genocide a thing? If yes, am I supposed to root for all of this?

•For a supposedly progressive society, it is obsessed with genes, and yet the author never explored its stance on eugenics (...some passages seemed pro-eugenics, and since there are no canon disabled characters in the first 40%, I wouldn't be surprised if this were yet another pro-eugenics future that is presented as utopia instead of dystopia).

•For a society that is supposedly not against queer people (though bigotry does exist, here and there), it's incredibly binary, even more than today's society. There's no mentions of trans/nb people whatsoever, and when the intersex character discovers she's intersex her reaction was so cissexist I decided to put down the book. I'm sure she will come to accept herself! But then this society isn't queer-friendly at all.

So: the worldbuilding is full of holes. But that wasn't my only problem with it. There were no descriptions of the setting, the futuristic technology was underdeveloped - I had no idea of how anything looked like. Alt-history near-future sci-fi is such a cool idea! But there's no atmosphere, no coherent aesthetic, just so much wasted potential.

Now, the plot. Was there one? The first 30% is characters preparing for a debut ball in which nothing happens (...it's over in one scene). There's no conflict whatsoever.

For a book with such shitty worldbuilding, was it full of infodumps. I stopped at chapter 11, which is basically one big infodump. I mean, just look at this:

There was, of course, some debate on how much of the Computer was God, though the Church of the Empire was adamant in its declaration that the Computer was made by people to better understand God’s design and was, therefore, not divine in its own right. There were several dissenting groups, mostly in the American States, who stridently decried the use of the Computer to store genetic codes and determine compatibility.

...really interesting, isn't it? Well, it goes on for paragraphs!

I also highlighted many instances of "cheatery narration": the narration is in [character 1]'s PoV, then tells the reader about the feelings of [character 2], and goes back to [character 1]. This happened at least three times: not enough times to establish an omniscient PoV, enough times to make me wonder if an editor read this at all.

Also: boring characters, but that's usually what happens when you have no conflict.

Why did I put up with this for 100+ pages, then? I wanted to love this. This is one of my favorite covers of all times and I wanted an excuse to buy a copy because I just love this so much (I only buy physical copies of my favorite books). Also, it has a main f/f ship.
Sadly, this didn't work for me at all.
Profile Image for Puck.
670 reviews303 followers
December 23, 2017
2 stars. Ouch, what a letdown! This book had so much going for it, but delivered so little. The fascinating world and the great representation just didn’t weigh up against the lack of plot and the weak characters. *sad trombone sound*

This is my third book by author E.K. Johnston, and in a way this novel is similar to the ones I read before: “The Thousand Nights” duology. Those novels neither have a exciting plot or a fast pace, but are great to read because the author brings such enchanting worlds to life with her lyrical writing. A Thousand Nights also has an amazing feminist moral, which the story carries out well.
A beautiful setting is also present in this book: imagine a world a la Victorian England, but freed from ideas of colonialism, oppression and racism. No one is judged for his or her race, sexuality or gender, and science and all kinds of religion exist peacefully side by side. An ideal world, and a world fascinating to read about to see how it changes from ours. Such a scene as this one is already something to think about:

“The room was a riot of colour. Elegantly draped hijab and gele were worn in combination with ball gowns, tasteful kipper with suits, and vivid salwar kameez and military uniforms were worn by all genders. There was no shortage of English-styled dresses like the one Elizabeth worn, but many of them were decorated with Chinese iconography, and Margaret at least counted six saris.”

Sadly, even such an inspiring world can’t charm me for too long when it’s writing style confuses me so. The author often switches perspectives in the middle of a chapter, which makes the story hard to follow if you don’t know all the characters yet. The short inserts of maps, newspaper-articles and chat-histories didn’t clear up much of my confusion, and they didn’t add a lot to the story either.

Which leads to another main problem that I had with this book: it had too much wool, and not enough shape. Too much plot-lines but no real plot. We get the basics of what every main character wants, but more than the 5 basic W’s* is never explained. Margaret wants to travel, Helena wants to get married, August wants to protect his family’s lumber business…and that’s it.(?)

The same goes for the (female/female) romance and the intersex-identity. I’m a big supporter of more LGBTQIA-representation in fiction, but when the f/f romance is a complete insta-love and the intersex-identity simply mentioned and never delved in deeper, I’m left torn: should I be happy with this rep or not?

But I was certainly unhappy about the sudden happy-ever-after ending: important decisions were quickly made and “I love you’s” shared by people who barely knew each other. It was ridiculous: it felt like the story offered me a romance-cake, and before I could decide if I wanted a slice, the whole cake was shoved down my throat.

Yeah, I’m not a big fan of that. :-\

I hate that my discovery of E.K. Johnston’s work in this year ends on such a disappointing note, but that’s what this book was: a disappointment. Not even its beautiful cover can change that.

* = The 5 basic W's are the Who, What, When, Where and Why of a character ('s goal or description).
Profile Image for Katherine Locke.
Author 15 books510 followers
January 3, 2017
I suspect this book will get a rabid cult following, and I am 100% here for it. This book deserves such a following. Bring me the fanart and the fanfic. Inevitable Fandom for the win.

I've always loved Johnston's books. There's something alluring, quirky and inviting about her prose that I don't often see in other books that are lyrical and literary. It's like having a conversation with your best friend from the corner of the room and you're watching and commenting and admiring snickering about everyone else there. How she manages to do this across all genres is beyond me, both as a reader and a writer, but as a fan and a reader, I really love this. And it's all the more apparent and a central part of the book's voice in THAT INEVITABLE VICTORIAN THING.

I don't want to spoil this early but: female friendships! Queer relationships! SO MANY FEELINGS.

I don't really have comp titles, because THAT INEVITABLE VICTORIAN THING is that unique. I can name some like-books, but all of them have more paranormal (THE DARK DAYS CLUB, SOULLESS) or are straight up sci-fi, and INEVITABLE VICTORIAN stands on its own.

It's Victorian (SURPRISE?), but with present day elements (chat) and futuristic elements (uploading DNA to the whole internet for matches/information/access/etc), and there are subtle shifts in Victorian ethos and standards that have changed because of technology. And in other ways, some things have remained the same, despite everything happening around it. It's a world I didn't always understand, but one that I accepted without much effort. It was easy to suspend my disbelief.

I'll add a long review closer to the pub date but yes, put this on your TBR, because you'll want in on this.
Profile Image for Brooke — brooklynnnnereads.
1,031 reviews247 followers
September 28, 2017
I have so many thoughts and feelings regarding this book yet at the same time, I'm unable to wrap my brain around everything. Here's hoping that some semblance of this review makes sense.

First off, I have to mention my love of the settings within this novel. Rarely do I ever get to read a book where I have visited or have knowledge regarding the setting. With this novel, the majority of the story is placed in locations that I regularly visit! I now understand how much more that adds to the reading experience because I can actually visualize the real setting. This seems like such a minor thing but in all actuality, I cannot even tell you how exciting it was to have places you regularly visit mentioned within a story you're enjoying.

Now, to get to the nitty gritty: the story. This novel started and had me hooked from the beginning. I couldn't get enough and was reading ferociously. I was loving the characters, all of the Canadian aspects, the style of writing, Royalty, and the integration of technology. I have to say that eventually the story did seem to slow down, but it was still enjoyable.

As for the major plot twist, I did not see that coming AT ALL. I'm not going to mention really anything about it because I want others to experience that surprise. I am going to say that I'm glad that the author included this element because it's an important topic that needs to be discussed more. That's all I'm saying.

I have to say that I'm conflicted about the ending because I don't know how supportive the ending is in reinforcing the importance of this topic. It almost belittled the inclusion of the idea at all as more than one character has to continue acting like someone that they are not for the purpose of abiding to the standards of society.

Overall, I did enjoy this book and thought that it included some important elements. I do think there may be some negative feedback surrounding the ending but maybe there's a sequel in the works to change that? I hope to read more from this author in the future as I really enjoyed her writing style and the overall themes of this novel.

**Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review**
Profile Image for Elena.
825 reviews85 followers
July 22, 2017
Original review: What a title. I'm in for that alone.

After reading 100 pages: ...Too bad the title was the best part. *sigh*

I was SO excited for this book, and it disappointed me SO much. From the totally uncritical acceptance of British imperialism as an integral part of this utopian alternate future to the lack of any compelling conflict to a confusing mishmash of characters in a third person omniscient narration to the fact that the book takes place in futuristic Canada in a world with an alternate history in which Britain embraced multiculturalism during Victoria's reign but there are somehow still no named First Nations characters despite the aforementioned glut of characters...

I didn't even bother to read far enough to get to the queer romance bits, and I was especially looking forward to those.

Biggest disappointment of the year for me so far.

Thanks to Penguin Random House and Edelweiss for providing an advance review copy.
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,253 reviews178 followers
October 20, 2017

Johnston puts together something quite intriguing, an alternate world where colonisation didn’t take the same form and resulted in a place where multi-ethnicity is valued, not curbed. The mixture of old fashioned traditions from the Victorian time, such as entering society through debutante balls, with modern technology (DNA matching) was unusual but compelling.

The plot focuses on three main characters discovering who they are, their sexuality, place and role in this society, but also on how friendships and responsibility affects them. The narrative is slow to start with, but I personally didn’t mind this as it gave me time to learn about these protagonists and the world they live in. If anything, I would have liked even more details. Additionally, I really liked watching Margaret, Helena and August and their different points of view and reactions. It did feel a little like a fairy tale, which might not be to everyone’s taste, but this aspect worked with the compassionate and thoughtful tone.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,768 reviews1,768 followers
January 5, 2018
I'm a little torn on this one, honestly! I thought it was a bit slow for my tastes, mostly at the beginning, and I would have appreciated a bit more wallowing in emotions, but I also understand this is a book designed in part to ape Victorian conventions and mores, so perhaps I was never going to get the version of this book that would have pleased me best.

And what a strange little book it was!

This is an alternate history/speculative take on quite a complicated scenario. Basically, what if Queen Victoria hadn't been quite so Victorian, at least in terms of policy? What if she had grown into a strong queen who made her daughter her heir instead of her son, and who encouraged her children to marry into the empire and began to gradually change her empire into one that discouraged typical colonialism. This world takes that scenario and runs with it. The British Empire is stronger than it ever was in history due to several policies enacted that embraced all religions as part of the state, and also embraced multiculturalism. The result is a technologically modern society with Victorian traditions like arranged marriages and coming out balls, paired with progressive ideas about religion (which is extremely prevalent) and sexuality. It's like a Victorian utopian fantasy world, and while not realistic in the slightest, it's fun to imagine.

Our three main characters are Helena, Margaret, and August. Helena and August have been practically betrothed since childhood, and Margaret, also known as Victoria-Margaret, is the crown princess of the Empire. Her parents have allowed her the summer to essentially live in disguise as a normal non-royal young lady, and only a handful of people know who she is as she's set to make her debut into adulthood in Toronto. The three of them make discoveries about themselves that that changes entirely the way they think about their futures. This book is full of great rep, including a large multi-cultural and racial cast, as well as LGBTQIA characters all over the place, including in the main cast.

This book was a bit slow to start, and even at its most fast-paced, it's a quiet, thoughtful book. I do wish maybe that the "twist" 1/3 of the way through had opened the book. My engagement with it would have been immediate, if so. But overally, I am pleased that this is a book that exists in the world, and might revisit when I'm more in the mood for thoughtful and sweet than I am for something to zoom through and devour.

[3.5 rounded up, for originality of the ideas, if not for execution]
Profile Image for Sarah.
526 reviews26 followers
September 13, 2017
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.

Profile Image for Ashley Cruzen.
342 reviews536 followers
May 21, 2017
Really interesting world building in this book. I like the futuristic Victorian feel of it. Made for an interesting blend of old and new customs. There was a huge amount of diversity in this book, both in race, gender and sexuality which also made the Victorian aspect of it more interesting.

My only complaint was really the pacing. It started out kinda slow, and then once it picked up it kinda just..ended. The resolution at the end happened so fast I went to turn the page to read more and it was just the acknowledgements. It definitely left me wanting more.

Overall highly recommend. Fun and fresh historical fiction full of diversity.

*Thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for providing me a copy for review*
Profile Image for Danielle (Life of a Literary Nerd).
1,224 reviews257 followers
September 25, 2017
I DNF'd this at the 43% mark.

I wanted to like this book - it's so pretty and the premise sounded really cool. But this is just is one of those situations where the book just isn't for me. Victorian London is my least favorite time period for historical books, but I wanted to give this one a try because I've liked E.K. Johnston's previous books and thought the premise of an alternate Victorian  setting would hook me enough to get me into the time period. But I was just so bored and didn't really connect with the characters at all. I like the friendship we see start to develop but  do not feel compelled to read this at all, it's not grabbing me. I think many people will like this, it's just not for me.

I received a copy of the book from Dutton BFYR via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Abigayle Claire.
Author 9 books223 followers
May 8, 2018
I'm so disappointed!!! Great concept and interesting society. But the content went south at the end of chapter 11 when Really bummed that it went LGBTQetc. I didn't finish, so I can't say if the romantic content was graphic, but all had been handled well thus far. Honestly I'm most disappointed that I couldn't find such a content warning as I just gave before buying and beginning it.

I can't recommend this because of my moral stance on the issue, but if LGBTQetc stories are your thing, this one has a pretty cover and neat premise.
Profile Image for charlotte,.
3,226 reviews873 followers
February 18, 2020
Rep: bi intersex mc, biracial (Black, white) wlw mc, Chinese Canadian mc


* the whole premise seems to be oh what if queen victoria married her kids across the empire and thus the empire became Good like, british colonialism did not start with victoria and it was a comfortably embedded mindset by the time it was at its height no?

* stop changing pov in the middle of a damn scene!!

* i only cared about helena and august i didn't care about the f/f or the polyamory (sad)

* helena basically cheats on august with margaret, love a good cheating bi stereotype!

* why august agrees to the polyamory when he's just found out helena CHEATED and he had no meaningful interactions with margaret, i don't know
Profile Image for Robyn.
827 reviews132 followers
October 15, 2017
Aw, what a lovely little story, full of twists and turns and challenges and lovely solutions.
Profile Image for Ksenia (vaenn).
436 reviews217 followers
February 25, 2021
Уявімо собі Британську імперію часів королеви Вікторії. Уявімо собі правительку, яка вирішила укріплювати свою владу над чужими землями династично, але трохи не в тому сенсі, як зазвичай історично складалося. Уявімо, що та сама Вікторія І поодружувала своїх численних нащадків не з високородними аристократами чи принцами/принцесами сусідніх держав, а з представниками впливових місцевих родин Канади, Китаю, Індії. Дуже здоровими представниками впливових місцевих родин – гемофілія сама себе не розчинить. А потім її наступниця повторила цей досвід. А потім інші аристократи вирішили підхопити королівську моду, а потім вигадали генетику, винайшли богонатхненний Комп’ютер, котрим відає архієпископ Кентерберійський, і всі-всі-всі підданці імперії, над якою не сходить, пардон, не заходить сонце, почали одружуватися виключно з міркувань генетичної сумісності, не зважаючи на расу, етнічність, класове походження і всілякі інші дурниці, що тільки генофонд нації псують. І настав розквіт, і прийшли мир і благодєнствіє, і єдине, що хвилює молодь середини ХХІ століття – це щоб Сезон вдало пройшов, і щоб отой приємний молодик, з котрим ти аж двічі танцювала, вдало з тобою генами співпав.

“Оте невідворотне вікторіанство” – це шалений жанровий мікс, що поєднує мотиви сучасної янгадалтової прози, іронію на адресу регентсько-вікторіанського любовного роману, біопанкові фантастичні мотиви та дрібочку хитрозакрученої альтернативної історії. І що з цього виходить? Ну, любовний роман ще нічогенький. А от за іншими напрямками – місцями відвертий фейл.

Там, де про любов – там все бодай зрозуміло. На початку роману ми знайомимося з кількома молодими людьми, перед якими ясніє торонтський Сезон. Причому по-справжньому високий – дебютанток представлять самій Її Величності Вікторії-Елізабет. Одна з цих дебютанток – канадійка Гелена Маркус – нічого особливого від Сезону не чекає: практична до твердолобості дівчина вже знає, що хоче вийти заміж за друга дитинства і тільки сподівається, що аналіз генетичної сумісності цим планам не завадить. Інша навпаки – планує вичавити із Сезону все, бо це її єдиний шанс спробувати на смак вільне життя. Бо Маргарет – не просто така собі Маргарет, а Вікторія-Маргарет і це вона краще пізно, ніж рано успадкує британський трон. А поки що принцесу-інкогніто закрутило незвичними розвагами, зачарувало далекими краями і непозбувно тягне до нової подруги. У нас тут нарисувався любовний трикутник? Яку роль в цьому розкладі грає милий, але трохи нетямущий ��вгуст Калаган? І як взагалі працюють стосунки, де всі одне одному брешуть?

Саме як підлітковий текст “Вікторіанство” працює непогано: радощі, труднощі й лінощі дорослішання, проблеми самоідентифікації та готовності/неготовності відповідати очікуванням старших, ці несміливі перші поцілунки, це томливе очікування, прогнозована і цікаво вписана в сюжет квір-нотка – все тут начебто гаразд. Трохи нуднувато, трохи занадто “сетингово-залежно”, але нічо так, годиться. Якби не кілька “але”.

Усі "але" та потік невгамовної антиімперської неприязні - в основному блозі.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,155 reviews311 followers
November 11, 2017
3.5 stars

This is a sweet romance set in a Canada that grew from an alternative history where Queen Victoria took the British Empire in a very different direction. While the new version of history doesn't completely erase all the problems of a colonialist past, it does attempt to unravel some of those threads and provide a better alternative path forward.

The first half of the book is fairly slow, setting the stage with a lot of social gatherings and that sort of thing. The latter half of the book is where the book takes off and, for me anyway, became most interesting.

As is usual for Johnston, she writes in clear and readable prose that draws you in to the story. The racial diversity of the characters is built into the fabric of the alternative history that has been set up, so that is expected. The romance centres on a burgeoning awareness of sexuality between the characters who, it seems, previously hadn't thought much outside traditional lines.

I probably would have enjoyed this book a bit more if there hadn't been such an exclusive focus on the upper class. But that's just a matter of personal taste. In my usual choices of books I tend to steer clear of upper crust Victorian romances, but being such a fan of Johnston's writing, I was happy to read this regardless. My only specific complaint with the story is similar to what a few others have said; the ending was a bit sudden and everything seemed to come to a halt just when it was getting really interesting.

This book isn't my favourite of Johnston's, that remains A Thousand Nights, but it's an enjoyable piece of work that I think will appeal to many others, particularly lovers of sweet romance stories.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,275 reviews228 followers
October 27, 2017
In a near-future world with a very different history to ours the crown princess of the British Empire spends some time in Canada incognito.

In this world Queen Victoria directed her children to "marry the empire" rather than marry into European noble houses. This has made multiculturalism and diversity emblematic features of the British Empire and enabled it to survive to become the preeminent power of the modern world. Crown Princess Victoria-Margaret, posing as Margaret Sandwich has Zulu and Chinese ancestry as part of her cosmopolitan genetics. After her debut she gains access to her genetic profile under a psuedonym and the gnet, a way that people with compatible genetics can get in touch and chat. Meanwhile Helena, one of the people that Margaret has met during her stay in Canada, has also accessed her genetic profile and what she finds is extremely distressing and threatens to upset plans for her future that have been in place since she was a young girl.

The world-building is the star here with a re-imagining of the British Empire as mostly a force for good by 21st century standards particularly in the embracing of diversity in all ways, genetic, religious, cultural and making that the strong backbone of civilization. Each chapter has an excerpt from historical documents in this alternate history and current day writings from the current Archbishop of Canterbury: a very different position than it is in our world.

What's left is actually a small and sweet romance story with a little bit of intrigue. Unfortunately the book ends just as the real meat of the story is about to begin. There's definitely room for a sequel here, and in fact, this book could be seen as an extended prologue for something really interesting. Hopefully the author runs with that.
Profile Image for Carrie.
54 reviews27 followers
September 1, 2017
I received early access to this via Penguin Random House's First to Read program.


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.
Profile Image for emma.
152 reviews566 followers
April 17, 2018
dnf ~20%

This sounded like it would be 100% My Kind Of Thing??? but I just ended up really bored??? I'm really not a fan of the writing style and the characters are solidly meh.

If you're looking for f/f and intersex rep (and I believe demisexual rep too?), though, you should probably still give this a try! I didn't hate this or anything, but I'm too bored and busy at the moment and I feel like if I force myself through this I'll just end up back in a reading slump. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
69 reviews
October 4, 2017
I DNF'd this at about 40%. Did this book have an editor at all? It felt very underdeveloped, like it was published far too early in the writing process.

I impulse ordered this despite the truly awful title because the setup sounded so interesting. However, this book suffered from infodump after infodump, stilted language, and mini-conversations that didn't build characterization but muddied it.

You know when some authors talk about how, for a 200 page book, they wrote 600 pages and cut the rest as important backstory for the author but not for the reader? This book is the 600 pages. Repeatedly, the author interrupts the story to elaborate on a historical point or moral point. In the book, Queen Victoria was nothing like the real Queen Victoria in that she was progressive, insightful, and capable of steering the British Empire toward anachronistic reforms. Okay, it's fiction. I can go with it. Victoria married her grandchildren off to variety of people from all around the world with the goal of racial and cultural integration throughout the empire, which has kept the sun from ever setting on this empire (this despite the fact that the empire and the monarchy were already waning and beset by huge problems before Victoria's reign, and was hugely, deeply racist during). The Queen of England is black, succession goes to the eldest child rather than to a son, and same sex couples are unremarkable. Nobody goes to the U.S. because they have dire eugenics-sounding stuff going on. Technology has advanced, but in different ways than it has in our world.

This is an interesting set up. However, it's presented too idealistically. Fragments of letters from Queens Victoria I and II setting forth their vision don't flesh the world out or make it seem more likely. There's never an explanation for WHY this Victoria was so, so different than the real one (who was sexist and racist and, frankly, not that smart) or how she managed to effect such wholesale change.

The story jumps from character to character, sometimes in the same scene. The dialogue is fake and doesn't advance the story so much as elaborate on the world. The characters are flat and uninteresting, and the plot takes far too long to start. The chat between Lizzie and Henry, which sets up a later story, doesn't give any clue as to why they actually like each other--there's just no chemistry.

It's obvious that the writer cares deeply about this world. It's less obvious why the reader should do so. A good editor would have helped this book tremendously, but as it is, it reads like a first draft.
Profile Image for Giselle.
1,057 reviews907 followers
February 21, 2018
So sorry, but I'm marking this one as a DNF at page 102..Couldn't get into the story, if there was one, I'm not so sure. The alternate world it was set in was beautiful. Naturally, in a city I know well..Toronto. I loved the mentions of places I frequent and, even the Maple Leafs losing lol.. I just couldn't understand why there were different POVs, and their stories and thoughts were too bland.
Profile Image for Jacqie.
1,653 reviews80 followers
April 17, 2018
This is a book with a fascinating alternate history and setting, and absolutely no story to go with it.

The idea is that the Victorian era led to Queen Victoria opening up to the possibility of her heirs marrying nobility with a different skin shade, and opening up to the possibility of a female heir. This combination made the world less racist and more egalitarian, while keeping all the trimmings of Victorian culture. Therefore, the new crown princess is of mixed race, but she still has to go through all the social expectations that come with debuting in society and finding an advantageous match. In this case, the match is found through a computer program that has genetic data from all the people worth knowing, and which matches people based on their genetic compatibility (whatever that means). So, friendly eugenics! And a computer that's seen as semi-divine and looking out benevolently for everyone's best interest.

This may be the author's idea of a better world, but it's still weirdly race-based. And entirely binary with regard to gender, although a couple of characters in the book are not. It felt like it wanted to be utopian, but was actually a bit chilling.

And absolutely nothing happens. The characters are all very nice people who have wonderful manners and are innately considerate and tactful. There are balls, but none of the intrigue that would make them fun to read about. No chemistry between any characters, despite the author's best efforts. There is a plot development in the end, I suppose, but reading the details became painfully boring and I abandoned the book after skimming.
Profile Image for Amanda.
1,124 reviews230 followers
November 6, 2017
2.5 stars. I feel like I should have loved this book but it just really didn’t work for me.
Profile Image for Selene.
618 reviews135 followers
November 23, 2018
This was not very memorable. For a book I just finished I can’t remember most of the plot or even remember the characters names...
Profile Image for Nicole N. (A Myriad of Books).
913 reviews96 followers
January 8, 2018
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.

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.
Profile Image for ellie.
549 reviews161 followers
October 24, 2017
Edit: it’s now the morning after I wrote this (I wrote it at like 2am and was very angry) but after thinking deeper I think I had such a problem with the writing because the perspectives were so confusing. When you had the two main characters to switch back and forth from in the beginning, it made sense. But it started getting muddled because the author would switch perspectives in the middle of the chapter (like just one whole paragraph in one person’s) and I just got lost. I understand that they were in the same room, but it was difficult to distinguish whose thoughts we’re focusing on. I wish each chapter was mentioned to be in one person’s POV, too. I also wish Margaret was focused more on. Because she is faaave.

I haaate when books disappoint me. This was such a cool concept. I love the idea of alternate history of the colonialism without the racism but the spread of diversity. It hooked me in the beginning and lost me somewhere in the middle. I just kept thinking “why do I care?” You know? I only really liked Margaret a lot. I felt that the romance was instalove. August’s relationship felt more real because of flashbacks and history but I preferred the other couple but oh my god it’s so infuriating when they confess love after like 2 days! But still. This was a good way to do a love triangle, I suppose.

I give this 2.5 stars but I rounded up just because of the diversity elements. The writing style was just NOT for me. It was so 😴😴 SO many times. In the middle, we got random maps of the lakes and I was like ????? It didn’t even show where the cabins were located? What? Who cares? Lol. I’m sorry, I’m being really hard on this book because I was so ready to give it 4-5 stars and then it just went down, down, down. The side characters didn’t feel fleshed out. August was tacked on at some points and then almost forgotten and then brought back for the finale. Just, urggh.

Oh, and if I had to read one more sentence about God owning their souls ... like I respect their beliefs so I didn’t lower my rating for it but geez. It was repeated SO many times! And all the “historical documents” started to get boring too. I started skipping them. I’m quite in a cross mood because I see how this could’ve gone in so many different (and better) ways but...alas. I still don’t know what the main plot of this was. There were so many muddled side plots that never got the time they needed to intrigue you. And then they overlapped but then conveniently tied up at the end. I just. Urgh. These characters deserved so much better!!!

I don’t know maybe if it’s just me, because I don’t read much Victorian-Esque things? but I couldn’t connect to the world at all. I found the writing pretentious and over embellishing and just unnecessary at times. I started skipped passages because I was bored. I felt like there was no cohesive plot, just a string of events tied together to be a love sorry, I guess? But it’s weird bc it could’ve been a discussion on politics? I’ve read plenty of “pretentious” writing and actually loved/enjoyed it because of how it made me feel. This just dragged on. And I was tired of it. I’m still tired of it.
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