October 19, 2017

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That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston | SLJ Review

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redstarJOHNSTON, E.K. That Inevitable Victorian Thing. 336p. Dutton. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101994979.

Gr 9 Up –Years from now, Victoria-Margaret will be the next Queen and continue the work her ancestor Victoria I started two centuries earlier: to strengthen the British Empire for all of its people, and promote genetic diversity and inter-Empire politics with an advantageous marriage. First, the crown princess will have a summer of freedom for her debut season in Toronto. Although her brown skin, epicanthic fold, and freckles make her easily recognizable as the current Queen’s daughter, Margaret is able to disguise herself with the help of her natural hair and a civilian alias. Helena Marcus is looking forward to a quiet debut in New London and making her unspoken understanding with August Callaghan official. August wants nothing more, but hopes to delay their official engagement until he can see himself clear of the American pirates plaguing his Canadian and Hong Kong Chinese family’s lumber business. When her mother’s position as a placement geneticist brings Helena to the far more prestigious Toronto debut scene, she and Margaret strike up an immediate and easy friendship with a hint of flirtation. Spending the summer up north at the Marcus cottage near Lake Muskoka allows Margaret to see more of the Empire and to find her own place among the raucous Callaghan family. Helena’s chemistry with both Margaret and Henry crackles despite being couched in Victorian manners and conventions. As Margaret, Helena, and August grow closer and learn more of one another’s secrets, they realize they may be poised to help get everything they’ve long wanted. Johnston’s standalone novel blends light science fiction elements in a near-future setting with the tone and style of a Victorian novel. Chapter headers including maps, society gossip pages, and correspondence serve to expand the detailed world-building and highlight the Empire’s deliberate and thoughtful inclusivity (despite realistically damaging colonialism in the Empire’s distant past). VERDICT A clever and self-aware novel set in a fascinating world, this witty and romantic story is a must-read.–Emma Carbone, Brooklyn Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal August 2017 issue.

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