The Jackaby Quartet // by William Ritter

//published 2017//

So in August the fourth (and final, as far as I can tell) Jackaby book hit the shelves.  Having thoroughly enjoyed the first three books, I was eager to reread them and then get the grand finale.  So this is mostly going to be a review of The Dire King, with some thoughts about the series as a whole.  The links go back to earlier reviews of the series (not this time around).  When reviewing the final book of a series, it’s virtually impossible to avoid some spoilers, so the brief review is: 3/5 for Dire King and 4/5 for the series as a whole.  I personally didn’t like the way a bunch of things concluded in Dire King, but that’s kind of a matter of personal opinion, as it technically worked.  But in the end I was left with a lot more questions than answers, and felt like the plotting in the final book was rather sloppy, like Ritter was hoping that as long as there was enough action, the readers wouldn’t notice gaping holes in the logic.

I really wish that Ritter had stuck with episodic stories for this series.  I still think the first book was the best of the bunch, and it was because it was a self-contained story.  The further into The Grand Scheme that Ritter got, the sloppier the stories got, and the more it felt like he was only really interested in getting us to the final book.  The Grand Scheme got really involved and complicated, while the concept of just writing paranormal mysteries with these characters would have been fantastic.

More thoughts below with mild spoilers…

I really enjoyed reading back through the three earlier books, and actually liked Ghostly Echoes better the second time around when I already had an idea of where things were going.  (Maybe I’ll like The Dire King better if I reread it??)  These books are just plain fun.  The dialogue is hilarious, and Jackaby and Abigail are a brilliant combination of characters.  There’s still a bit too much modern SJW talk, with women’s rights being handled in a very heavy-handed way, and the whole transgender thing in Ghostly Echoes that makes absolutely no sense within the context of the story and is quite obviously being inserted to show us how open-minded Ritter is.  But I’m willing to overlook these types of things as long as the rest of the story holds up, and for the most part it does.

However, the further into the series we go, the more Ritter starts to build what I think of as The Grand Scheme.  Many series – in fact, most – do this, but for me it only works if the small schemes aren’t sacrificed in the process.  Each book should still be able to stand as a solid and engaging story on its own, and while it’s okay to have teasers leading into the next book/The Grand Scheme, it can be frustrating when it feels like I only got part of a story (I’m looking at you, Robin McKinley’s Pegasus).  Ritter doesn’t quite do this, but he’s close, which is probably another reason that I enjoyed Ghostly Echoes more the second time around – it wasn’t as annoying of an ending when I had the final book right in front of me!

The thing is, it just started to feel like Ritter had bitten off more than he could chew with his Grand Scheme.  All of a sudden we’re jumping in and out of fairy land and the land of the dead and we’ve got conflicting kingdoms and factions and all kinds of critters running around and it’s not really clear who is on which side and even if there are sides and there is this whole thing that’s going to apparently blow up the Veil that separates the physical world from the fairy world and there is this guy who can make zombies kinda and this little furry critter that gives cryptic advice and no one knows or really seems to care whose side he is on and then all of a sudden this one character who was kind of a minor character turns out to be the one who betrays everyone except when did she even meet the bad guy??  Like it felt extremely weird and was never explained how she even did what she did or why so her motivation makes literally zero sense and then in the end everyone apparently is just like Oh, okay, and they all go home??!?  And what happened with the zombie guy?  And apparently there was some guy who has been keeping the Veil safe for like hundreds of years and could live that long because he was wearing this magical gem but then he… took it off??  And died?? And the whole Veil started to collapse??  So why did he take it off??

Basically, the whole book made me kind of dizzy.  Things were happening very quickly and strangely without any genuine explanations, and instead of there being this big epilogue that made everything make sense, there was an ending that I found to be VERY STRANGE and did not like AT ALL.  The ending itself dropped the entire book a half star for me, like I could not get behind it at all.

So The Dire King was a bit of a letdown for me.  It had its moments, but just didn’t pull things together the way I had anticipated.  This series could have been a lot more fun and entertaining if Ritter had stuck with smaller stories that tied together instead of attempting to pull of a very complicated and involved Grand Scheme that just didn’t end up making a whole lot of sense.  I still recommend the series as a whole, and definitely will be rereading it sometime in the future – and maybe will enjoy The Dire King more when I have a sense of where it’s headed.  And I’ll be keeping an eye on Ritter to see what he decides to write next.

Beastly Bones // by William Ritter


//published 2015//

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 Mapa 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.


The Map // by William Ritter

//published 2015//

//published 2015//

This novella takes place between the first and second Jackaby novels.  While it was an enjoyable read, novellas generally just leave me wishing the author had taken the time to develop a full-length book.

In The Map, Abigail wakes up half-hoping that her eccentric employer has forgotten her birthday.  However – no such luck.  With some magical time-and-space-traveling party crackers, Abigail and Jackaby find themselves scampering around both the seen and unseen worlds.  Jackaby’s ability to see all things as they are – including magical creatures – aids the pair throughout their adventures, but I love that Abigail’s ability to see the ordinary is so necessary to balance Jackaby’s viewing of the extraordinary.

The relationship between these two protagonists develops throughout the story, leaving the pair good friends at the end instead of merely coworkers, and I liked that.

The story was a little thin in my mind, leaving some gaps with a sort of Well what do you expect from a novella attitude, which I think is unfair to short stories, as they do have the potential, when crafted correctly, of delivering a full and well-rounded tale.  The Map was a pretty solid 3/5 read.  While enjoyable for someone pursuing the series, it doesn’t really have a great deal to offer as an objective book in its own right.

Jackaby // by William Ritter

This is one of those books that has been on my radar for a while.  Thanks to my new system of deciding what book to read next – the random number generator lottery method – I finally got my hands on it!  Stephanie reviewed this book all the way back when it was published in 2014, and it’s been on the TBR ever since!!


//published 2014//

Our heroine, and narrator, is Abigail Rook, an intelligent and no-nonsense young woman, who, despite her inherent practicality, finds herself in a bit of a bind: she’s landed in a small New England town in 1892 with no real means of supporting herself.  Having run away from home, Abigail is reluctant to return to her parents (especially since her initial runaway adventure was a complete failure), and is determined to find a job of some sort.

She answers an advertisement:  “Investigative Services – Assistant Wanted – $8 per Week – Must be literate and possess a keen intellect and open mind – Strong stomach preferred – Inquire at 926 Augur Lane – Do not stare at the frog.”

Now, personally, I’m not sure Abigail was really the right person for the job, since she immediately stares at the frog, but despite starting out by disobeying instructions, she soon finds herself probationally employed by Mr. R.F. Jackaby.  Jackaby possess a unique ability – he can see what other people cannot: namely, the paranormal.  Fairy creatures of all kinds are powerless to disguise themselves from Jackaby.  But what Jackaby doesn’t possess?  Very much common sense.

Jackaby and Abigail make a great team, and I loved the complete lack of romance between them.  While Abigail does harbor some warmer feelings for another character we meet, the romance is not an integral part of the story, and it really felt more like it was background for a future book.  The mystery was paced well, and the story was overall just a great deal of fun.

I’ve heard Jackaby described as a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, but I think he is definitely more Who than Holmes.  Honestly, a lot of this book read like Doctor Who fanfiction to me…  replace Abigail Rook with Rose Tyler, and there you are.  But that wasn’t a bad thing.  The story was a great romp, with plenty of fun dialogue and characters.

This wasn’t really a book of great depth or intrigue, but it was engaging and entertaining, and I’m excited to read the second book, which happens to be next on the pile…