Publication: October 3 2017
Publisher: Dutton Books
Pages: 330 pages
Source: Gift (Thanks Dad!)
Genre: Fiction, YA, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Alternate History
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤
That Inevitable Victorian Thing has been on my To-Be-Read pile for so long! I can’t remember how I found out about the book, most likely on bookstagram. I remember falling in love with the cover first, because look at it! It’s gorgeous! I then became interested because it’s 1) set in the future and 2) set in Canada and 3) YA and finding a book that fits all three of those categories is a very rare thing. Combine that with finding out that Johnston is a Canadian writer (who I had the pleasure of meeting at Toronto Comic Con this year) and I knew this was a book for me.
That Inevitable Victorian Thing follows three characters: Helena, August, and Margaret, who all connect with one another over their last carefree summer’s before impending adulthood and all carry a secret they’re hiding from one another. Helena is intersex and worries how that will affect her future with her long-time friend and promised future husband August, while also discovering she has feelings for her new English friend Margaret. August is learning the ways of his family’s business when he mistakenly begins paying off American pirates to keep the business safe and tries to juggle keeping his family and love Helena from knowing any of this. Margaret is a princess and next in line for the throne who is in disguise pretending to be an ordinary woman visiting Canada for her last summer before she must plan finding a suitor for herself. The three character’s lives intersect and join as the secrets get muddled together in the best of ways.
It did take me a while to understand what I was reading. At first I thought the book was set in an alternate, kind of steampunk past since the word “Victorian” is in the title, but then with references to the 1960s-1980s I figured the book had to take place in at least present day (and according to the summary it actually takes place in a not to faraway future, I should read that first next time). The book is also written very properly, almost like it could have been written during the Victorian time. Though the book is set in a future alternate Canada, women still wear corsets (or at least they do when they debut) and couples still court each other in an old fashioned manner, but many other aspects not accepted during the Victorian time are. Gay and lesbian relationships are mentioned very casually throughout the book as well as bringing up trans politics when speaking about the Computer which determines gendered matches between people around the world. It’s a complicated little story, but one Johnston clearly put a lot of time and thought into, and one that once you get sucked into you don’t want to leave.
Being Canadian, I was able to understand a lot of what Johnston changed historically in the novel, but it would be harder for a non-Canadian to understand what exactly was different historically in this universe. To make it simple for any future non-Canadian readers, That Inevitable Victorian Thing takes place in an alternate history where colonialism did happen, but reconciliation was reached eventually with the colonists recognizing the wrongs they caused. This led to a much more racially diverse Canada as well as a society which is accepting of sexuality and gender orientation and one that also is very scientifically advanced.
I loved all three main characters in the book and I think Johnston did a fantastic job balancing the story between all three. Johnston also made the three mains interesting and different from one another, I didn’t find myself waiting to read about one character I favoured over another as usually happens in multiple POV novels.
What’s also interesting is that the characters and certain events that happen in the novel act as dominoes to one another that crash into one another, leading into another plot point that perfectly ties in at the end of the novel. It wasn’t clear at first, since as well as the story reader’s are also reading fictional Wikipedia articles on Johnston’s world, newspaper articles on past monarchs, Computer chat messages that aren’t clear to be happening in the past/present/future until later in the story, a doctrine on faith and the Computer. But it’s an amazing feeling when you see all those dominoes crash and the picture they made in the end. Once I finished the book I immediately wanted to re-read it to see how all those pieces connected and caused the other events in the novel that I didn’t see coming on my first reading.
The book ended in the most unexpected way that made my heart so happy. It was an ending I definitely didn’t see coming as it’s unusual in most books, let alone YA. And though I can’t speak from the perspective of someone for what happens in the ending, I think Johnston did a very good job writing the beginnings of it as the book ended.
That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a fantastic read that is different and wonderful in every sense of the words. It’s a must read for any Canadians waiting for a YA book that takes place in their country, is compelling, and strange as well as anyone in general who is a fan of history and wants to read about how Johnston attempts to fix it. It’s a beautiful novel of secrets, friendships, and love and deserves so much more recognition than it’s getting.