I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Jackaby. Jackaby is a detective (of sorts) in New England in the 1890’s, and he has a rather unusual ability – he can see things as they actually are, which means that if you are some kind of paranormal creature disguised as an earthly one, Jackaby can see you. However, Jackaby has trouble seeing the ordinary, which is what is assistant, Abigail Rook – also our narrator – is here to provide.
As in Jackaby (and The Map, a novella with the same characters), the characters and dialogue are great fun. There is plenty of humor, and I love the relationship between Jackaby and Abigail, which comes across very much like a pair of siblings, especially when Abigail tries to talk to Jackaby about her feelings (in general, not feelings for Jackaby) – a concept that Jackaby finds horrifying.
My big problem with this book is that it felt a little too much like it was setting things up for a future book (or maybe more), and so the plotting for this one got a little sloppy. There was a lot of running around rather aimlessly, chasing creatures across the countryside, without a lot of sensible explanation. It was a great lark, but there were multiple occasions that I found myself looking at the book a little sideways with a feeling of “say what?!” And of course the entire last chapter is spent explaining how all the loose ends will have be tied up later.
There is a death in this book that feels 100% unnecessary. I was super disappointed because I really felt like this character could have been a great one to recur, and it wasn’t even as though this person’s death furthered the story, so that was annoying. There is also a ridiculously long time spent battling the great creature toward the end – a chapter and a half seems more than generous to me, and ended up feeling a bit like padding.
And, final whine, I do sometimes get tired of listening to females natter on about how oppressed they are, especially when they are in the middle of not being oppressed. I had to listen to Nellie, a female journalist, explain about all the horrible obstacles she had to overcome to become a reporter because she’s a woman and everyone hates her – while at the time time she explains how she basically manipulates men using her feminine wiles, and that’s their own fault because men are so stupid and always underestimate women. It seems to be that if you were genuinely oppressed by men, you probably wouldn’t be able to trick them into doing whatever you want them to do.
It’s the same with Abigail. Sure, it’s sad that your dad didn’t want you to come with him on his archaeological digs, but you’re in the middle of a grand adventure while working for someone who treats you as a complete equal, so obviously being a girl hasn’t destroyed your life all that much. Whatever.
But truthfully, I really did enjoy this book and will definitely be anticipating the next book in the series, which is due to be published sometime this year. (The cover and description are already on Goodreads!!!) The dialogue really is just so much fun and I really, really like Jackaby and Abigail, and their whole relationship –
“You released a Stymphalian bird in the middle of Gad’s Valley?” [Jackaby asked]
“Technically,” I said, “I released a Stymphalian bird in the middle of a collapsing hovel.”
“Well.” Jackaby nodded. “That would not have been my first choice, but good work on not being dead, I suppose. See if you can keep it up. This whole ordeal is about to get quite a bit harder.”
All in all, a low 4/5. A solidly enjoyable read even if it was a bit scattered at times. Here’s hoping that the Jackaby series is far more than a trilogy.