Wednesday, February 18, 2015

REVIEW: Jackaby by William Ritter
Original Publication Year: 2014
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy
Series: Jackaby # 1
Awards: None
Format: Hardback (from library)
Narrated by: NA

This book had me at “…Doctor Who meets Sherlock Holmes….”  Have you ever run across a book that seemed like it was written with you in mind because it included everything you love? No doubt you have if you enjoy reading like I do.  They don’t come around very often so you can imagine my utter delight that this was one of those books for me. 

Jackaby is a brilliant and odd young man who (almost) alone in the world can see things as they really are – ghosts, trolls and other weird paranormal creatures are an everyday part of his world.  His ability brings with it the responsibility to investigate problems that may have a supernatural slant and he approaches all his cases with a scientific and very enthusiastic eye.  He’s impulsive, excitable, oblivious to normal human courtesies and, upon occasion, extraordinarily compassionate. He wears a coat overflowing with unusual bits and bobs that frequently surprise and come in handy.  He also doesn’t like to share his deductions until the bitter end. Sound familiar?  He’s a lovely mix of the Doctor and Sherlock Holmes and the world he inhabits is the Victorian era fictional American town of New Fiddleham.

He even has a companion who narrates their adventures.  The book opens with her arrival in New Fiddleham on a boat from Europe.  Abigail Rook is 18 and longs for adventure.  She ran away from her respectable Victorian family and future to join an archeological dig in Eastern Europe but when that goes south she ends up accidentally on a boat to New Fiddleham.  Finances depleted she must look for a job and fortuitously Jackaby is looking for an assistant.  She is thrown directly into a case of murder most foul and impresses Jackaby with her eye for detail.  She in turn is intrigued by Jackaby but is unsure at first whether she buys all the supernatural stuff.  One thing is for sure – working with Jackaby will provide her with all the adventure she could ever hope for. 

What did I love about it?  So many things!  Hopefully you can tell from above that I adored the characters – the development of them was spot on.  Like the illustrious characters he is compared to, Jackaby is often unintentionally odd and goofy but never ridiculous and he places himself firmly in the reader’s affections with his compassionate heart.

“So she’s just a mad woman?”

Jackaby hesitated, and when he spoke, his answer had a soft earnestness to it. “Hatun sees a different world than you or I, a far more frightening one, full of far more terrible dangers, and still she chooses to be the hero whom that world needs. She has saved this town and its people from countless monsters countless times. That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest battles always are.”

I loved that Abigail is not on the run from an abusive home and some dark childhood.  The worst that could be said about her upbringing is that it was conventional for the time and there was perhaps some benign neglect.  But really, she just longs for adventure and impulsively takes a leap.  As a result, she is a perfect mix of sturdy, practical, self-sufficient and brave with an ordinary amount of incompetence when faced with the very weird situations she is thrust into. 

“Hell of a sight. She let out a scream and just fell to pieces. Can't say I blame her. Like I said, this sort of thing is not for the female temperament." He directed that last sentiment at me, making eye contact for the first time.

"I dare say you're right, sir," I conceded, meeting his gaze. "Out of curiosity, though, is there someone whose temperament you do find suited to this sort of thing? I think I would be most unnerved to meet a man who found it pleasant.”

The two characters together are a good team and I think there will be much interesting development in their relationship.  There is a little romance between Abigail and a young police Constable but in this first book it goes no further than some blushing stares. 

The mystery itself is twisty and engrossing.  It serves as the perfect vehicle to introduce the reader to an alternate Victorian universe which is brimming with atmosphere.  The town of New Fiddleham is kind of brilliant exuding a strange mixture of old world and new world.  The New England city seems old but also like it is smallish city growing bigger.  The story takes advantage of the American setting by emphasizing the melting pot nature with cultures mixing.  It somehow gives the impression of progress while also feeling like a fairy tale village. 

It’s very funny with a clever and arch sense of humor.

I could probably go on gushing for pages but that would get boring.  I hope I’ve gone on just long enough for you to be convinced about how lovely this YA book is.  Most of the criticisms I’ve read accuse the book of being unoriginal.  *shrugs* I personally don’t get too caught up in how original a story is or isn’t as long as it is done well and in my opinion this was. 

FINAL VERDICT:  Immediate and lasting love for this one.  Will be waiting with bated breath for Beastly Bones scheduled to come out in September of this year. 5 out of 5 without hesitation or cogitation. 

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