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24 May 2016 @ 12:13 pm
Book Review: Jackaby by William Ritter  

I haven't done a book review in a very long time but I just got finished reading this YA novel that I found throughly enjoyable. The most accurate description probably is Sherlock mixed with shades of Elementary and a pinch of the supernatural as it involves the teaming up of an eccentric consultation and a likable female narrator as they investigate the supernatural during the late Victorian era. Don't let the pat description turn you off. It may sound like Sherlock-lite but it's truly a fun read.

Abigail Rook, daughter of a prominent paleontologist, has just arrived in New Fiddleham, New England. She's fresh off a failed archeological dig which she had impulsively signed up for in lieu of staying in her comfortable, privileged home in England, waiting to get married off. Now in America, she's low on funds and in need of a job. Not surprisingly, no one is willing to hire a young woman. But Abigail is nothing if not persistent and resourceful. Which puts her at the doorstep of R.F. Jackaby who has advertised for a new assistant. Jackaby is a consultant who helps out the local police on "unusual" cases. What separates him from being a normal detective is that he specializes in cases that have supernatural leanings. He's able to do this because Jackaby has a gift of being able to see the supernatural creatures who live among us. According to him, he is a Seer, a role that can only be held by one person at a time with the changeover only happening after the current Seer dies. And while Jackaby has exceptional talents in picking out the various mythical and supernatural occurrences, he's more or less blind to the average, normal details most detectives need to solve a case. That's where Abigail comes in.

Jackaby is clearly modeled after Sherlock. And I do mean BBC's Sherlock. His physical description and his tendency to speak with little thought to social conventions is very much in line with that character. However, there is a distinct lack of mean spiritedness and smugness in his statements which makes him much more likeable. When he constantly comments on Abigail's unwavering attention to the banal, he really does mean it as a compliment. In this sense, he's much more like Elementary's Sherlock in that he does appreciate Abigail's contributions and much to her own delight, he expects a certain level of competence from her which is refreshing for a woman during that time.

Abigail herself is a fun character. I liked that she is resourceful, smart, and has a good eye for detail. Given enough time, she'll likely be a better detective of straightforward cases than Jackaby who perpetually is too focused on bizarre things only he can see. I also liked that the author didn't do the thing of making Abigail a Mary Sue. She makes mistakes and has moments when she doesn't do the smart thing, as expected from most people when they're thrown into a world they have no experience with. I liked that she is given the room to be human and a multi-faceted character in that sometimes she behaves in ways that are non-traditional for her time and gender (like working for Jackaby) but also not devoid of all things traditionally feminine (like worrying about her clothes and finding a certain police detective attractive). It's a nice working in that you can still be kickass and feminine, which isn't something that's always championed.

The relationship between Jackaby and Abigail is reassuringly platonic. They have a nice chemistry and clearly enjoy working with one another but it never crosses over into the land of romance. This book is one of a series and I'm currently reading the 2nd one. I'm almost positive that their relationship will never become romantic, though I don't know if this means there will never be a romance for either of them. Abigail has the aforementioned attraction to a police detective but Jackaby is presented as more or less asexual which again, puts him in line with Sherlock. However, whether this will be turned over in the next three books is to be seen.

I haven't talked too much about the actual plot of the first book and that's mainly because it isn't anything too complicated. Not that it doesn't make it still a fun read. Jackaby and Abigail's first case together involves a serial killer. What makes this book extra fun for mythology lovers is that many mythical creatures from all different countries pop up. I enjoyed reading about how these creatures are getting on in the regular world (if they are getting on that is) and how they are able to disguise themselves. Overall, the mystery plot wasn't the biggest draw for me but it was fun enough to support what I really liked about the book which was the relationships and the characters.

As a final note, if you want a taste of the series, you can read a short story called "The Map" by William Ritter which is available for free on Amazon for Kindles. It involves Abigail's birthday which she hoped would just pass without any fuss. However, nothing is done without fuss where her new employer is involved. The brief story captures the kind of chemistry between the two of them but also highlights the kind of person Jackaby is as someone who knows he's very different from other people but not necessarily above them.