That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston. Penguin Random House, 2017
Welcome to a retro-futuristic present day, where the reign of Victorias never ended, thanks to the first Victoria’s making matches for her children on every continent. This blends together with advanced genetic match-making by Computer. Here we meet three young people. Introverted Helena is preparing for her debut – and is invited to a big debut ball in Toronto, where the current Queen Victoria will be present. The debut marks the official start of adulthood, a time for young women to launch their careers as well as start looking for matches.
Helena already has plans to marry Lam August Callaghan, heir to the Callaghan shipping empire in Ontario, though she does not know that he has unfortunately gotten the business tangled with some nasty American pirates. The third major character, we slowly find out, is Princess Victoria Margaret, heir to the British Empire. She’s in disguise – using her middle name, wearing her African-curly hair combed out instead of hidden under a wig, and in Toronto rather than London – so that she can have her own debut.
Once again, E.K. Johnston takes several familiar themes, shakes them up, and comes out with something completely unique. I loved the world-building here, the names of the English Country dances being done so familiar to me, mixed with computerized match-making intent on getting a perfect blend of genes from around the world, even if people are free to go their own way or not submit their profile to the Computer in the first place. I really liked both Helena and Margaret, and was somewhat less taken with August, which is probably why the romance almost but not quite worked for me. The book does get points, though, for being the only teen book I’ve ever read that even mentioned intersex people, let alone having one as a main character. (Who is it? Read the book to find out!) There is lots packed into a relatively slim book, with lots to think about afterwards.
But – Ms. Johnston, I love your books and I love Ontario, where I have spent many happy times from childhood vacations to my honeymoon. What is it that you have against my home state of Michigan, and why is it destroyed in all of your books set in Ontario? Could we please be friends?