Author: William Ritter
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Length: 299 pages
“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”
Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.
Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.
Protagonist: Abigail Rook dreams of adventure and discovering new and interesting things, something that a woman in 1892 "shouldn't be doing." Then she enters the employ of R. F. Jackaby and detective of sorts who deals in cases involving unexplained phenomena. I found Miss Rook to be very well written heroine. She's not a perfect character who can do no wrong, nor is she just a wallflower sitting on the sidelines. Over the course of the book, she begins to take her life into her hands and not care what other's think of her. While her character development isn't something very easily perceived, it is there and moves at a very believable pace, which in my reading experience isn't all that easy to find in a protagonist.
Romance: There isn't too much romance in this book, in fact, I'd equate it to the pacing of a Middle-Grade novel. There's some mild flirtation here and there between Abigail and the young detective Charlie Cane, but nothing substantial happens between them in this book. Then we have Jackaby. Can I just say that I love that there's no hint of romance between Abigail and Jackaby? It's extremely rare to see a genuine friendship between a male and female character, without some sort of attraction from either side ruining it.
World-Building: Set in Victorian America this series focuses on the Sherlockian detective R. F. Jackaby who, through his unique sense to see paranormal things that others might not, does his best to solve the cases that require his keen senses to solve. I loved the paranormal element to this book and diving into folklore as these characters try to pinpoint not only who but what committed the heinous murder at the beginning of this book. I found the book's lore and world easy to slip into and get immersed in, I wanted to know, perhaps just as badly as our heroes, how this mystery would end.
Predictability: So I have to admit other than just a few small surprises, I couldn't really predict much of what happens in this book, which I loved. While there is one big mystery to this book, which I was so close to figuring out, or at least my guess was close, there are also a few smaller mysteries that I won't get into, because spoilers, but regardless of the level of the mystery they were very fun and at times even dark. The few things that I was able to predict didn't hamper my experience with the book in any way, in fact having those things to predict made it so that I didn't feel completely clueless when the bigger things shocked me.
Ending: Starting off with the final climax, which I found very satisfying, it was a very high adrenaline experience and while I had a pretty good suspicion that our protagonist would survive, being that this book is told from the first person and only she narrates it, I still found myself quite a bit afraid for her. Then things got weird, not bad weird mind you, just out of the ordinary for the usual YA book formula. The final climax was over well before they usually are leading to a rather extensive, though not exhausting, cool down period where out heroes debrief the case, and work out a few more details. The very end of the book was awesome, while it didn't end with a cliffhanger and like most first books in series ends in a rather plateaued way, there's something that happens at the end that really warmed my heart.
So I'm actually rather surprised that I;m giving this book 5 stars. Not that I didn't love it or going into not expecting to love it, but my first thoughts after finishing it were that it would get either 4 or 4.5 stars, but as I began to write my review I realized just how much I loved this story and I think if you love mysteries of the paranormal variety then you'll love this book too!