BOOK REPORT for That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

 

Cover Story: Montell Jordan

BFF Charm: Big Sister

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Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Talky Talk: Map to Modern Victoriana

Bonus Factors: O Canada, Diversity, LGBTQ

Relationship Status: I See What You Did There

 

Cover Story: Montell Jordan

As Montell Jordan once sang, this is how we do it. I have been drooling over this cover long before I knew what the book was about, and when I did read it, the design became even more clever. First of all, it’s just plain pretty: the clean lines, the purple, green, and peach colors, and the floral title. Second, it makes you immediately curious as to why the double helix and DNA sequence are present, along with what looks like a circuit board. The title makes you think “Victorian England,” but the cover makes you wonder why, exactly, this modern science is present. It just works.

The Deal:

In a world where Queen Victoria I encouraged her children to marry outside of England, and thus the still-robust Empire is now racially and ethnically diverse, Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess. With the help of genetically-arranged matchmaking, she’s soon to debut into society and make her choice of mate…but before she does that, she goes to Canada for one last vacation.

While posing as a commoner, she meets Helena and August, two similarly-aged lovebirds who are also ready to get engaged. But between the balls, swimming in the lake, tea parties, perusing genetic matches, and stolen kisses, Margaret finds herself in the middle of a matchmaking dilemma she’d never considered.

BFF Charm: Big Sister

To be perfectly frank, while all of the main characters are quite likeable, I wouldn’t give them my BFF charm. They’re pleasant, but boring, and too embroiled in their personal dilemmas for a new friend. I found myself interested in what was happening to them, but not them. Mostly, I wanted to tell them to stop keeping secrets and talk to someone who could help (but when has that ever worked?).

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

There’s a lot of romance in this story, since matchmaking and marriage are the entire point of the debut season—but nothing really set my heart (or body) aflame.

Talky Talk: Map to Modern Victoriana

The world building and Victorian references in this book are wildly clever, and the entire reason I liked the story. Between the genetic matchmaking, the articles in which science and religion go hand-in-hand, the maps, and the epistolary asides, I thought it was an incredible concept. Anyone who loves Victorian history and literature will appreciate the depth of thought that went into this world, and anyone who likes progress will enjoy the idea of a British Empire that reflects upon the misdeeds of the past and seeks to improve life for all of its subjects.

Where the book lost me occasionally is in its pacing—for all its modernity, the pacing can be slow. (This calls to mind actual Victorian literature. They didn’t have the internet; who could blame them?) About one hundred pages in, I still had no idea where the plot was going. I continued because I loved the world-building, and once it finally became clear to me what was happening, it was a far quicker read.

Bonus Factor: O Canada

I can’t remember the last time I read a book set in Canada, so this was refreshing. Recognizable Canadian culture is predominant, despite the diversity of the Empire. (Yes, there were Anne of Green Gables references, among other things.)

Bonus Factor: Diversity

The ethnic and national diversity of the Empire is referenced often in passing, and Crown Princess Victoria-Margaret is black (well, mixed-race, but there are many descriptions of wearing her curly hair naturally, and her dark skin, which led me to picture her as black). August, Helena’s fiancé-to-be, is Irish and Chinese.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ+

This was an interesting portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters, and the particular challenges they face in an Empire obsessed with ideal genetic matches.

Relationship Status: I See What You Did There

Book, you are too clever by half. I spent most of our date smiling at references I recognized and sighing over a re-imagined world that sounds fairly ideal. I never got the sense that you were too pleased with yourself, but I think half the fun was poking you and saying, “I see what you did there.” Now that our date is over, I’ll recommend you—but only to people who will appreciate your modern Victorian sensibilities.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is available now.

Jennie lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. When she’s not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, runs an Etsy shop, and thrifts for vintage everything.