I was in the mood for some steampunk, and this was available at my local library. Not only that, it promises some LGBTQ+ characters and themes, and right now that’s something I guess I’m interested in catching up on.
That Inevitable Victorian Thing
Author: E.K. Johnston
It’s YA. It’s definitely YA. It’s also left-leaning as heck, and it’s unapologetic about it. If you don’t like YA or can’t stand completely lopsided political agendas, then give up reading the review right now and go look into something that will please you.
On With The Review
This one was a trip. Like, really weird. Super out there. I had fun for the most part, but certain elements just threw me off hard. I’m going to talk about those because that’s what I remember best, but I wouldn’t let this prevent me from reading it if I were looking for a book with this sort of premise.
It’s alternate universe, but it’s really, REALLY, SUPER CANADIAN in such a way that I’ve never read before. In fact, I didn’t know there were people out there with this big a hard-on for Canada. In addition to the Canada part, which let’s be honest is just odd from a “never seen a book like that” standpoint, the book had what I originally anticipated to be an intriguing idea: Queen Victoria had, instead of allowing Parliament to run amok and institute their own rules, imposed her extremely progressive and pro-science will upon the Empire. The Empire, in pretty much its old size and form, still exists in what I think was a vague period between the 1980’s and 2010’s of this alternate universe.
So, yeah, that sounds like me, doesn’t it? A sort of steampunk sci fi? That’s what I thought. But there was this really weird thing with the church being kind of into eugenics. The Anglican church was also bigger and more powerful than the Catholic church (and also kind of universalist). All of this didn’t seem reasonable to put into a single institution if we start from what we had in the 1830’s and go from there. I was also a little weirded out by how important genetics were when choosing a good match, especially when one considers that the world was supposed to be preferable to our own and about choosing for love. The whole eugenics thing threw me for a loop when the society was supposedly post-racism and post-colonialism. All of this, to me, does not go together well with strong monarchy. This universe wasn’t just dependent on a strong, progressive Victoria. It was dependent on strong, progressive English monarchs (read: queens) FOREVER.
As a hardcore American Patriot, FREEEEEEDOOOOOMMMM!!!! Down with the crown!
One thing I appreciated was the extensive sexual diversity of the characters. The book included polyamorous matchings, heterosexual couples, homosexual couples, and one of the main characters was intersex. None of that bothered me. What did bother me about the romance was the sheer power imbalance between Princess Margaret and ANYONE else in the book. That kind of power imbalance often, in real life, leads to bad news.
Anyway, I last wanted to talk about how the book entirely ignored class. While race, sex, and orientation played big parts and were presented in rather leftist lights, the absence of class in the narrative stuck out like a sore thumb. All of the characters were, coincidentally, high-class people. Those who were lower class but showed up were presented very, very similarly to how the slaves were presented in Gone With the Wind. They’re happy little servants, pleased with doing anything for their good masters. I assume the author wanted you to assume that the servants really were treated well, but if that’s true, she obviously hasn’t read enough Southern literature or antebellum American literature. The parallels are really astounding, and I think it took away from the overall liberal messages of the book.
3/5 Discoball Snowcones
This’ll be brief.
At the end of the book, Princess Margaret pretty much enforces what she wants with monarchical power. She will either take Helena, the intersex character, alone, or she’ll take both Helena and August. The book presents this as the perfect solution, but the characters have known each other for all of a month. August knows Margaret very poorly; he agrees to marry her on the spot because he’d JUST A FEW HOURS AGO lost his inheritance and learned that the woman he loves is intersex and sterile. Because Margaret is literally going to be queen of the Empire, do August or Helena really have another choice? It really led me to believe that Helena and August were being taken advantage of desperately. It wasn’t a good romance ending, if you ask me. It felt like what would have happened if Bill Clinton had left Hillary for Monica Lewinsky: not good, and kind of power-imbalance-enforced.
What I’m Reading Next:
Look, I’m blasting through some books right now. Don’t you wish I’d just slow down?
Too bad, because I’m doing some Murderbot Diaries novellas.