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February 4, 2020

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd ~ a Review

by MK French

The raven levels off into a glide, flight feathers fanned. Slick on the rolling level of rising currents and downdrafts, she turns her head, this way and that. To her black eye, as black as pooled tar. London is laid out - there is no veil of fog or mist or smoke-haze her gaze cannot pierce! (p. 9)

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

February 2020; Atria Books; 978-1982121280
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); gothic mystery
Bridie Devine is an impressive investigator in Victorian London, looking for Christobel Berwick, daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick. The child has reputed supernatural powers, drawing the attention of unscrupulous collectors trading curiosities. Looking for Christobel means that Bridie has to unearth a past she'd rather forget, as well as deal with a delightfully oddball cast of characters.

Things in Jars has a blend of fact, fantasy and fairy tale; this absolutely is my favorite kind of novel. It's written in the style of the Victorian language, meaning that it's more formal with descriptions and how people approach one another. There's also Bridie's past coming up almost immediately because it's giving her the understanding necessary to try to find Christobel. She was once indentured of a sort to a man who dredged the Thames for corpses to sell, then was sold into the household of a physician who collected oddities. It's a very Victorian gothic kind of atmosphere, but that time period was as enamored of memento mori, death and the dying as they were with superstition and the occult. With her background, Bridie has no problem inspecting corpses for clues, rifling through things and realizing what various things in jars are, or the value they could fetch on the market. None of this is very ladylike work, but since she's not nobility, it doesn't seem to matter much to her. She cares more about doing the right things and helping people who otherwise would be forgotten, another clear carryover from the past she'd rather forget.

Christobel herself is an eerie and unusual child, and the stories that she craves to hear means something as well. It gradually becomes clear as the novel progresses that there's a lot more to the case than what Bridie was told, and she is connected to who stole Christobel. There are stories about what Christobel could be, as well as what the powers she might have; the tales have led multiple people to seek her out and try to bid on her, just for bragging rights to say that they have a rare and powerful creature under their control. Bridie tries to do her best to find Christobel so that she can play and be a normal child, which none of the men will let her be.

Even the side characters have histories of their own, some of which intersect with the main story at hand. They flesh out the story and add a little more to the main missing child storyline. The past and present collide uncomfortably for Bridie until we get to the end of the novel. Everything wraps up, perhaps not as neatly as I would normally like, but neatly enough for the kind of life that Bridie lives.

Buy Things in Jars at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and three young children.

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  1. I have a copy of this book, which I picked up because I like the author. Based on your post, I'm moving it further up the reading chain.

  2. I just got this book suggestion in an email today. It looks good!

  3. This sounds really interesting. I don't know that I've heard of it before.

  4. Victorian gothic, sounds like my kind of read!

    Here's my Tuesday post! Hope you're having a great week!

  5. I just downloaded a copy of this yesterday!

  6. from reading the comments, it sounds like this is highly desired.
    sherry @ fundinmental

  7. That’s a great review, you have me intrigued.