I wanted to like this book so much more than I actually did. On paper, there’s lots to love. It’s an alternate history set in present day Canada (or maybe a notch in the future) where the British Empire didn’t fall and instead the monarchy made much more humane and multicultural decisions about how to incorporate the subjects of their colonies into the Empire as a whole. There’s still a royal family but over the years the royals have made strategic marriage alliances with their colonies so the royal family, like many of its subjects, is multiracial. Though people can still marry for love, there is a giant computer network that helps people find their ideal genetic matches.
Amidst this world, we’re introduced to three main characters. Two of them, Helena Marcus and August Callaghan, have grown up together in New London and their friendship has turned into something more—an expectation, though not often articulated, of eventual marriage, where Helena will help August take over his father’s successful shipping business. The third, Margaret, is actually Victoria Margaret, crown princess of the Empire, but she is a princess in disguise. She has gotten permission from her parents to take part in the debut season in Toronto, posing as the distant cousin of Elizabeth Highcastle, the daughter of an Admiral in the Royal Canadian Navy. Like an elaborate parlor dance, the plot slowly brings these three characters together and their lives will be forever changed.
Again, I so wanted to love this book and the world it created but the plot felt too much like an over-choreographed dance—there was no real tension. I liked Helena, August, and Margaret, but they were almost too agreeable. They have servants but they treat them well, almost like friends. They make mistakes but these mistakes don’t have serious consequences. There are hurdles—each character has a secret that they don’t want to reveal; however, these hurdles are barely even mole hills, let alone mountains, that the characters have to surmount.
As I got near the end, I realized I was waiting for the real story to start—a much more complicated one involving the potential tensions that are just hinted at in this narrative. However, the book simply ended and I wondered if there was an alternate universe where the author used this fascinating world as a backdrop to a more complex and chewy story.