I had picked up tons of hype about this book, and then absolutely nothing. When I was given the chance to read it from Netgalley, I pounced, because of all these good memories. And I so wanted to love this.
Goodreads summarizes it as: Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.
This sounded like everything I would love, almost like a period drama coming to life in a futuristic setting. But the world building was really strange. There were documents to establish the world, and mentions of this matchmaking software program, but I felt really out of place. There was this mix of ‘The Queen is an extension of God’ with ‘but we have all this genetic knowledge too’ and it left me feeling lost. I couldn’t build the world within my head – setting wise – and as far as ‘world logic’ goes, I couldn’t grasp it. Not even in the end. I eventually just transported this setting in my head, which worked for me, but I know I lost out on some things.
Because of this, I didn’t catch on to the whole colonial power and diversity thing until reading reviews afterwards. (I really liked Cait’s review). All of a sudden, more things began to make sense, but that in turn left me with more confusion. What bothers me the most on a worrying level, is that when you read this as some alternate history science fiction, world building is crucial. And to have it so lacking is worrying. I realize that writing historical fiction is daunting, and in this respect, I felt like Johnston did well, but for the science aspect I needed more.
(In terms of historical fiction, I next to nothing about Queen Victoria, and my English history is worse than that. So if you want to debate accuracy, don’t talk to me).
I can deal with a slow book, they’re some of my favorites, so if you’re a fan of high paced non-stop action this is not the book for you. What saved my experience with the book were the characters and ending. My favorite might have been August, which is so rare for me but I really appreciated the difficulty he was going through with his family business versus personal identity thing. The intersex character and f/f relationship was also wonderful to read. Much like life, the people are the ones who stick with you, and I enjoyed many of the side characters – I just wished they could have lived in a world with more depth.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.
What is your favorite historical fiction?
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