RATING: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
For anyone who has known me long enough, I have a huge soft spot for books set in Victorian London. (Also, WWII but that is a whole other matter entirely). Despite the love/hate relationship people have with Cassandra Clare, I adored her Infernal Devices series because guess what? Victorian London! Old-timey banter! Waistcoats! Oh, those waistcoats. So, although Jackaby took place in America, there was a Victorian London-esque feeling, that just told me, “Read me, it’s going to be right up your alley.”
But then I read the jacket copy and made a frowny-face of disappointment because Sherlock meets Doctor Who? I’m not a fan of either of those shows—save your stone throwing till after this review—so I felt already polarized by the intense need to categorize a book that should have just spoke for itself.
Jackaby does not lie in its pop-culture assumptions. Following Miss Abigail Rook from her attempts to become an archeologist in the Ukraine to running away to New England, she lands at the doorstep of Mr. R.F. Jackaby, detective. When a mysterious murderer is on the loose and Abigail is gunning for that detective assistant job with Mr. Jackaby, the two collaborate against the unyielding police force and the supernatural occurrences that only Jackaby can see.
AKA Sherlock solves a mystery with a teenaged-female Watson that involves werewolves, fairy lore, and ghosts.
I wanted more from this book. At a slim 299 pages, Jackaby had all the workings to take the setting and run with it. Ritter starts to get the atmosphere going in the beginning, but loses steam as he attempts to lay down all the clues for Jackaby and Abigail in rapid succession. The plot is so linear, so direct, that it feels like a lack of imagination in the writing. For once I wished a book did draw out the character development into something meaningful. There needed more scenes, more side plots, more something.
The characters were too cookie-cutter. Jackaby was supposed to be a mash up of Sherlock and Doctor Who (their words, it’s in print! You can’t escape it)—for fans of the series, right? For people who like those shows and those interesting characters? They should appeal to that fandom, not ape it. Jackaby was Sherlock, Abigail was Watson. The paranormal creatures are what (I assume) is the tie to Doctor Who. But they were so flat and one-dimensional that finding curiosity in their case was nonexistent. Abigail’s personal interest in history and the “unnoticeable being noticed” gave her some depth but when the readers are looking over her should and dancing around in her thoughts, nothing else carried through.
Jackaby felt unfinished. It could have benefited from a richness the world provided but instead relied too much on these stock characters from already occurring canon. Maybe this was Sherlock fanfiction-turned-novel? Who knows.
As a forewarning, this book reads a little young (despite the murder and the intrigue). With Algonquin running head first into children’s books (and giving them the benefit of the doubt as they find their footing), I really think this should have been categorized in middle grade rather than the young adult section at your local bookstore.
In the end, the tl;dr—If you like Sherlock, this book will either interest you or annoy you with how exactly similar these characters are. You’ll be disappointed in all that could have been but wasn’t.
This book is the first in a series.
IF YOU LIKED THIS BOOK, YOU MIGHT LIKE: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel