This book is aptly titled. It borrows from the gaslamp fantasy’s Victorian setting, which borrows from the Victorians’ fascination with the dead, ghosts, seances, and Ouija boards. And yet, it is unlike any gaslamp I have read.
It begins with the heroine at the age of six. Mirror is traveling with Goliath around England in search of soothsayers, magicians, mediums, and other people who profess to have connections to the Otherworld. Mirror has a problem that they hope these people can solve. The context for their predicament is not shared until nearly halfway through the book, where it takes on a tinge of horror.
The split narrative at first bothered me, because so many of the characters are a little (or a lot) unhinged, and I wanted to focus on Mirror and Goliath. But these glimpses in to the psyches and back-stories of the villains and the secondary characters really enhance the surreal atmosphere of the novel. I found each one more intriguing than I had expected, and I found myself looking forward to the contributions these digressions made to the story. They help explain the nature of the evil opposing Mirror and Goliath, and they bring clues to the mystery of Mirror’s past.
The characters, as unhinged as some of them are, have many facets. No simple black and white here – instead, each has elements of both. Characters that originally seem entirely villainous may, in fact, turn out to be less malicious than expected. Many are shaped by tragic circumstances.
Even with the strange and intriguing characters, and the value some of the secondary narrators brought to the story, it all seemed to fall apart a bit in the second half. For the longest time, the narrative avoided Mirror and Goliath, who were supposed to be the main characters, if I understood correctly. The non-chronological order confused things, and made it difficult to follow the plot and subplots. The unraveling plot was the only thing I really didn’t like about the book – I would have given it four suitcases without it.
This book is written with a flair for prose, and I don’t mean flowery. Somewhat dreamlike and spare, it is very evocative. The tone matches the story, which is surreal, magical, and a little bit horrific. While it doesn’t drag the reader very deeply into the emotions and motivations of the characters, it really does make everything feel very real.
Moreover, the plot contains many unexpected elements and surprise twists, which I never would have predicted.
Honestly, the first half of this enchanting, strange novel surpassed my expectations. The second half dragged a bit, the way the disparate threads never really knitted together.
I would recommend it for beach, porch, cabin, or airport and waiting-room reading. I would especially recommend it for gaslamp and urban fantasy fans who hanker after something a little unusual.
*Advance copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley
I find it so difficult to think of novels similar to Mirror and Goliath that I choose Neverwhere as a similar read. It has some of the same spookiness, built around a very different plot and setting. And if you haven’t read it yet, you should.