I’m a little torn on this one, honestly! I thought it was a bit slow for my tastes, mostly at the beginning, and I would have appreciated a bit more wallowing in emotions, but I also understand this is a book designed in part to ape Victorian conventions and mores, so perhaps I was never going to get the version of this book that would have pleased me best.
And what a strange little book it was!
This is an alternate history/speculative take on quite a complicated scenario. Basically, what if Queen Victoria hadn’t been quite so Victorian, at least in terms of policy? What if she had grown into a strong queen who made her daughter her heir instead of her son, and who encouraged her children to marry into the empire and began to gradually change her empire into one that discouraged typical colonialism. This world takes that scenario and runs with it. The British Empire is stronger than it ever was in history due to several policies enacted that embraced all religions as part of the state, and also embraced multiculturalism. The result is a technologically modern society with Victorian traditions like arranged marriages and coming out balls, paired with progressive ideas about religion (which is extremely prevalent) and sexuality. It’s like a Victorian utopian fantasy world, and while not realistic in the slightest, it’s fun to imagine.
Our three main characters are Helena, Margaret, and August. Helena and August have been practically betrothed since childhood, and Margaret, also known as Victoria-Margaret, is the crown princess of the Empire. Her parents have allowed her the summer to essentially live in disguise as a normal non-royal young lady, and only a handful of people know who she is as she’s set to make her debut into adulthood in Toronto. The three of them make discoveries about themselves that that changes entirely the way they think about their futures. This book is full of great rep, including a large multi-cultural and racial cast, as well as LGBTQIA characters all over the place, including in the main cast. SPOILERS I can tell you right now, I expected a happy ending, but I did NOT expect that happy ending to include polyamory, which it for sure did END SPOILERS.
This book was a bit slow to start, and even at its most fast-paced, it’s a quiet, thoughtful book. I do wish maybe that the “twist” 1/3 of the way through had opened the book. My engagement with it would have been immediate, if so. But overall, I am pleased that this is a book that exists in the world, and might revisit when I’m more in the mood for thoughtful and sweet than I am for something to zoom through and devour.
[3.5 rounded up, for originality of the ideas, if not for execution]