Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sherlock Who: A Review of Jackaby

I hadn't heard anything about Jackaby, written by William Ritter, until my fellow book obsessed friend Jessie H metaphorically grabbed me by the collar and shook me until I read it. I am so glad she did. Jackaby was an adorable, fun romp that is overflowing with potential.

Jackaby is the story of Abigail Rook, a British girl recently arrived in America looking for adventure. She finds adventure in spades when she meets R.F. Jackaby, a detective with preternatural deductive skills and an abrasive attitude. Thus begins a story of murder, deceit, and intrigue.

I was suspicious of the novel at first. It was enthusiastically described as "Doctor Who meets Sherlock Holmes" and that's a very hard thing to live up to. I'm pleased to report that the book delivers. Jackaby is a very Sherlock-esque character with a heaping dash of the 11th Doctor thrown in for good measure without seeming like a bad fanfiction Gary Stu. He's smart but messy and forgetful, utterly ill-mannered and willing to run headlong into danger without a second thought. He has no idea how ridiculous he can be sometimes. He was, ultimately, rather charming and very funny. Abigail, on the other hand, is very much a companion-type character. She never reaches the necessity of Watson (apart from being the one who tells the story) but she has the best chunks of Donna Noble and Amy Pond in her DNA. She's logical, intelligent and wry in the face of Jackaby's antics. Together they make a perfect team.

The story itself is a rather simple one, which is really my only complaint. The story is so straightforward that the world suffers a bit from it. There was so much that could have been fleshed out but the actual bones of the story are sturdy and very good. There's room to grow and I expect future volumes to be expanded.

The book begins with Abigail arriving in New Fiddleham, New England. She needs a source of income and, after exhausting all her options, she finds a want ad about a Mr. R.F. Jackaby looking for an assistant. She arrives at his home and follows him directly to the scene of a gruesome, supernatural murder. There she meets the bashful and handsome police officer, Charlie Cane. Jackaby does what he does best, sticking his nose where it doesn't belong, and canvases the building for more information about the murder. They meet a banshee and a man who is agonized by her song. The next night, that man is also dead. Soon it's a race against time for Jackaby, Abigail and Charlie to find out who is murdering these people and why. Add in a wonderful ghost who lives in Jackaby's house and his previous assistant who is now a duck and you get a novel brimming with wonderful characters you simply can't help but adore.

Jackaby was an utterly charming novel. It's very well written and the dialog is pitch perfect. The characters are a true delight to read. I wish they had been given a bigger world to live in, but I have faith the world will expand as the series goes on. The murderer was sadly easy to figure out, as was Charlie's big secret, but this is a YA novel so it's not going to be burdened with being super subtle. Despite figuring out the murderer ahead of time, the reveal was still deeply satisfying and the danger to Abigail and Jackaby felt real and thrilling. The book is also incredibly funny. Jackaby is a scatterbrained genius who, for example, often mixes up black powder and pepper while making omelets. You'll catch yourself giggling out loud as you read it.

It's a short novel, coming in at just 299 pages, so it's a quick read and a very fulfilling one at that. You won't regret any time you spend on it. The characters are worth the price of admission alone. I ended up loving the book despite myself. I couldn't put it down. I am officially demanding a sequel!
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