In other words, I loved it.
The summary of this book, as well as the cover blurb, describes this book as "Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Having never seen Buffy, I can't really confirm whether that's a good analogy, but the Sherlock Holmes part is spot on, for all the good reasons. Though, I will say that the comparison to Buffy probably invites ideas of more action and kicking ass than exists in the novel. There certainly is a good bit of action and excitement, but this book is first and foremost a mystery.
The book follows the story of Abigail Rook, our narrator, a young English woman who steps off a boat in New Fiddleham, New England in 1892. She has just come over from Germany after participating in an unsuccessful dinosaur dig, which she'd gotten to after stealing money her parents had set aside for finishing school tuition.
Once she gets to New Fiddleham, she finds herself swept up in a fascinating case, chasing a serial killer after a victim was found and linked to other deaths. However, it turns out that Jackaby is no ordinary investigator: he can see the mythical, the folkloric, the supernatural. He can see fairy tale creatures and monsters. Abigail, for all her doubts decides to go along with it, and ends up getting more than she ever anticipated.
"The waist cinches up in the back, and there are pockets sewn into the hem, here and here." Jenny gestured to the skirt.
Pockets! I was thrilled.
Abigail acts as our John Watson, becoming the grounding foil to R. F. Jackaby's absentminded professor. Abigail is praised for her ability to notice the ordinary, which sounds like an insult until Jackaby mentions that since he can see and looks for the extra-extraordinary, and the police are trained to look for the extraordinary as well, having someone who can pick out the minute, mundane details of the world is actually an invaluable ability.
It makes sense to me. While we think it would be more exciting to be able to see the extraordinary, it can leave a gap in our observational power. This is one of the key aspects of this book that helps set it apart from Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is someone who can observe the tiniest aspects of a scene and link those aspects together in impossible ways. Yet, while he appreciates Watson, Watson acts mostly as a device to guide us, the readers, through the impossibilities of Holmes, and Holmes even gets angry at him a few times for not seeing what he sees.
Having Jackaby not only appreciate Abigail's ability to observe the mundane, but emphasizing how he needs it--and knows he needs it--to complete his investigations is what made me fall in love with Jackaby, who could have easily just been another impossible detective. That, and the fact that he does try to understand the ways that pretty much everyone around him acts is really endearing.
The job posting Abigail answers
But possibly my favorite character, besides Abigail and Jackaby, would be Hatun. Hatun is a friend and informant for Jackaby. However, the reason Jackaby keeps going back for her opinions is similar to why he hires Abigail: because she views the world in different ways, offering a fresh perspective. I won't spoil the whole explanation, but I find it so fascinating how a book about people entering into the world of the supernatural still manages to blur the line between magic and mundane.
Hatun is an ambiguous character, not in alliance, but in how she functions, and that facet of this book is so intriguing to me. I'm quite fond of magical realism (which I define as the blurred line between magic and metaphor), and while this book is firmly in the fantasy genre, Hatun still manages to confuse all of the certainties. It's a very interesting aspect that I hope is expanded upon in the sequels.
One more thing: while there is a romance subplot in this book, I was very pleased that it remained subtle. Romance plots tend to be my least favorite parts of any books (though they're very numerous and very prominent in YA books). I'm fairly neutral about the romance in Jackaby, but I really did appreciate how it was kept as a subplot, didn't take over the book, and placed independent character development over having the two romantics' characterization dependent on each other.
This book is an absolutely fun read. It has thrills, action, excitement, and well-rounded characters. I'm going to look up the sequel soon, as well as the novella/short story that takes place in between. I found this to be breezy, satisfying, light read that hit the spot, and, most importantly, was out-and-out fun.
Here's to future reading!