Jess Kidd is an auto-buy author for me. If she writes it, I must read it immediately.
Kidd describes Victorian London with witty aplomb; the sights, surely, but more so the stench and emanations of its denizens. There is so much stink in this book I could taste it, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. There are botched surgeries, festering skin infections, and delectable, if not a little bit hallucinogenic, pipe tobacco. I was often curled up reading this romantic phantasmagoria thinking, “Damn, I love this!” Also, bring a highlighter on this adventure. My vocabulary increased threefold.
The whole story is a mystery involving a kidnapping of an otherworldly, sinister child. The child looks like an angel, but on close inspection really looks more like a corpse. And don’t get too close – she’s likely to snatch at your fingers with her pointed teeth. Draped behind the plot is the backstory of our protagonist, red-headed Bridie Devine, and how she came to be one of the most skilled surgeon’s assistants cum detective. Her seven-foot-tall sidekick, Cora, is a force to be reckoned with as well.
There are inclinations of magical realism, as there are in all of Kidd’s books. Evil mermaids (“merrow”) who can drown people on dry land, curious grotesque specimens in jars, and a ghost with the most winsome personality and animated tattoos that you can’t help but fall in love with him. My favorite character was little precocious Myrtle and her one-eyed doll, Rosebud.
Things in Jars requires a keen reader, as Kidd can be subtle in revealing plot twists. This is not a book to be rushed through, and I think it’s best taken in large doses, not unlike a pipe full of Dr. Prudhoe’s Bronchial Balsam Blend, in order to follow the different characters and the nuanced relationships among all of them. The kidnapping and the motives behind it have very deep roots.
Highly recommend. I want to go back and start it all over again. I did not want to leave the world of Bridie Devine. Many thanks to Atria Books / Simon & Schuster for the advance copy in exchange for my review.