That inevitable Victorian thing by E.K. Johnston

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Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2017. ISBN 9780735231597
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Themes: Fantasy. Alternative British Empire, Diversity, Romance, Duty. Genetics. Readers will find themselves in a very different political and scientific world when they encounter Victoria-Margaret, a direct descendant of Queen Victoria who has travelled incognito to Toronto to be presented as a debutante at her cousin's ball. She is excited to have the opportunity to shed the trappings of royalty and meet people as a normal young woman. Helena, too has been invited to the debutante ball. She is the daughter of a pre-eminent geneticist, and as her mother's daughter must present a happy face even when uncertain in the social whirl of tea parties and dances. August Callaghan is also in Toronto for the ball and is overjoyed to be meeting Helena again, hoping to cement their childhood attachment, even though he is frantic about the bad decisions he has made about his family's shipping empire which is under siege from pirates. The three discover an unusual bond, which will fascinate the reader.
E.K. Johnston is an author who is not afraid to take risks and write very original and thought provoking books. Her first book, The Story of Owen : dragon slayer of Trondheim (2015 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (Top Ten), 2015 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Nominee) grabbed my attention and I have followed this author with interest since then. Her story of an empire that has been built on making diverse genetic royal marriages instead of the princes and princesses marrying white royalty from Europe is unique and raises lots of questions about what the world would be like now if Queen Victoria has made those decisions. Throughout the book are snippets of conversations that Victoria-Margaret has on the net with the partner that has been chosen for her as genetically compatible and Helena too finds a partner who suits her genetic profile.
This is a novel that will challenge readers as they follow the well described characters of Margaret, Helena and August who must make some difficult decisions about their sexual orientation and duty as they come of age.
Pat Pledger