Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
Published by Atria Books on February 4, 2020 (expected)
Genre(s): fiction, historical fiction, magical realism, mystery
Format & Length: e-book, 384
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In the dark underbelly of Victorian London, a formidable female sleuth is pulled into the macabre world of fanatical anatomists and crooked surgeons while investigating the kidnapping of an extraordinary child in this gothic mystery—perfect for fans of The Essex Serpent and The Book of Speculation.
Bridie Devine—female detective extraordinaire—is confronted with the most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors trading curiosities in this age of discovery.
Winding her way through the labyrinthine, sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing a past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where spectacle is king and nothing is quite what it seems.
Blending darkness and light, history and folklore, Things in Jars is a spellbinding Gothic mystery that collapses the boundary between fact and fairy tale to stunning effect and explores what it means to be human in inhumane times.
Things in Jars is a historical fiction mystery with a magical realism twist that’s been seeing a good amount of hype recently—partly due to the fact that it’s one of Book of the Month’s January choices as an early release. I love a good mystery and the collapsing of boundaries between fact and fairy tale was an intriguing idea. So I dove into this hoping that, with all the love I’ve seen for it, it would work for me.
“London is like a difficult surgical patient; however cautious the incision, anything and everything is liable to burst out. Dig too deep and you’re bound to raise floods and bodies, to say nothing of deadly miasmas and eyeless rats with foot-long teeth.”
What I wound up with upon completion was a lot of mixed feelings. I can certainly see where all the hype came from. The writing was wonderful and eloquent, except for when it got to be too dense. The plot was interesting and well thought out, merging several strands for a satisfying conclusion. But the way the omniscient narrator switched from one person or timeline to another was confusing sometimes. And some chapters all of a sudden began in a random animal’s perspective, which threw me for a loop every time. The characters were fascinating, quirky, and complex. But I wanted to get to know some of them better. Although categorized as a mystery, the reader knows the answer to the whodunnit very early on, way before detective Bridie Devine does. The mystery serves as a way to let the characters shine and develop within the unique backdrop. And the addition of the bizarre elements was definitely interesting, but I’m not sure if it actually added anything to the story for me.
The ending of Things in Jars wrapped the story up nicely while leaving enough open for a future series. I personally wouldn’t continue on but there is an audience for this book. Readers who enjoy magical realism and an ornate writing style meant to be savored will probably find this to their liking.
*Thanks to the publisher for providing an arc of this edition via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.