Jackaby by William Ritter

Details: 299pp, Algonquin Young Readers hardcover
Release date: September 16, 2014
Series: Jackaby, book 1
Rating: 3/5
Buy: Politics & Prose BN.com Book Depository

Summary (from Goodreads):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.

My thoughts: Finally, a book to get me back into writing reviews! It’s been an all-around blog-writing slump lately, with a minimal amount of creative writing happening for once. But Jackaby is a YA novel that, while easy to read, has some pretty obvious downfalls and successes.

          The Good

Amalgam of character types. We have a Sherlock-Holmesian Jackaby, the clever Abigail Rook, a dunce, the mentor, and the villain. There are a few other characters as well, but those are the ones that stood out the most to me. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve noticed archetypes playing out in a book — I can’t even remember when the last time was or what book — so I had fun recognizing some here!

Historical setting. Historical fiction is often a hit-or-miss with me, but the similarity of this story to some Sherlock Holmes kind of won me over in the end. I do wish the period had more to do with what happens in the story though. I feel like whatever choices an author makes must have some kind of reason in the end.

The book’s positioning. “Doctor Who meets Sherlock”? Yeah, that’s what really caught my eye. And overall, that holds true!

          The Meh

Lack of character development / imprecise development. We have so many character archetypes, but barely any characterization of them. With Abigail especially, I felt like her portrayal in the first 30 pages was completely different than in the rest of the book. Someone who impulsively runs away from home to go on a fossil dig is not highly logical, which is how she’s characterized the rest of the book. And what of Jackaby’s past and upbringing and relationship with Jenny??

Lack of presentation of clues, explanation of Jackaby’s abilities. I really would’ve liked to feel more connection to the mystery. Within the last hundred pages, we jumped from only just cracking the surface of the mystery to completely solving it, and I never felt a good transition, probably due to lack of clues presented to us as readers. And Jackaby’s abilities could also have been explained a whole lot better. The explanation was the equivalent of a parent’s winning argument “That’s just the way it is” with their teenager. More logic, please?

I picked up Jackaby for two reasons: the marketing and my winning the Beastly Bones ARC through a contest. I will be reading on! I just hope Beastly Bones is better developed. The end of book two will be decision point for me. I rated this book a 3/5 on Goodreads, though a 2.5 might be a hair closer to my true feelings.


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