Saturday, 3 February 2018

Review: 'The Wicked Cometh' by Laura Carlin

I'm always looking for historical fiction and mystery stories with female protagonists set in Victorian England. Sadly I have also often been burned during that search. It takes a deft touch to combine all those different aspects and not have one of them become disastrous. So when I saw The Wicked Cometh I was immediately intrigued. People are going missing? Wickedness in London? A bright young woman in the midst of it all? I am SO here for it! Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/02/2018
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
'We have no need to protect ourselves from the bad sort because we ARE the bad sort . . .' 
'This newspaper has taken note that the past month has been remarkable for the prevalence of cases where men, women and children are declared missing. Scarcely a week passes without the occurrence of an incident of this type' - The Morning HeraldTuesday 13 September 1831 
Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and the city's vulnerable poor are disappearing from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible. 
When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock. 
But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking. . .
In a sense The Wicked Cometh is a mystery novel that tries to answer a straightforward question: why are people disappearing? But Laura Carlin uses this as a way to address class which, in my eyes, definitely elevates the plot. Hester is poor, incredibly poor, living among equally poor and hungry and cold people in London the 1800s. But her life wasn't always like this. When her parents were alive she enjoyed comfort and education, but now, as an orphan, she has not much to hope for. That is, until pure chance literally throws her in the way of the Brock family where she gets another chance. Through Hester, Carlin is able to show the harsh divide between the rich and poor, how the former can look down upon the latter with disgust and zero awareness of how they came to be poor. The constant clash between expectations and reality are really interesting and add an extra layer of meaning to The Wicked Cometh.

In the next paragraph I'm going to discuss two different themes running through the novel, however, these are pretty much spoilers. So please ignore the rest of this paragraph if you want to remain unspoiled! Still with me? Ok, let's go! At the heart of the wickedness taking place in London lies the working on human corpses in the hope to gain, at least initially, medical knowledge. It is something that also popped up in Rawblood, the contemporary terror of people at the mere thought of human corpses being operated on in order to advance medical knowledge. Carlin strikes a successful balance in showing both the understandable fear of her characters, as well as how her bad guy has lost his subjectivity when it comes to his endeavour. It was done really well I thought, especially combined with The Wicked Cometh's focus on class. The disregard with which the upper class considers the lower really comes out through this plot line. Another theme was love, especially love between women. Carlin worked this out so beautifully in The Wicked Cometh that I was rooting for it before the characters themselves were even truly aware of their feelings. Not once did it feel Carlin would exploit their love for sensationalism, rather she treated it like the previous thing love is.

The Wicked Cometh is incredibly atmospheric and this is all due to Laura Carlin's beautiful writing. Her London comes to life through her descriptions which are incredibly evocative, whether it's the dirt on the streets or the sound of the crowd. The houses, the people, the weather and mood, it's all described in a way that draws the reader in straightaway. I felt like I was watching a movie sometimes, with the amount of detail Carlin managed to confer to me. Carlin takes a lot of time at the beginning of the novel to set her scene and establish her characters, which may not work for everyone but I loved it. Also, I adored Hester, she was such a scrappy and determined main character who stayed true to herself as much as she could. Carlin makes some choices towards the end of the novel which felt a bit rushed, as if she was trying to tie every story line together into one thread and thereby stretched some of them a bit too far. In a way some of these choices reminded me of the Gothic novels of the time, deeply dramatic and a bit too much, but sadly it didn't really work and betrayed some of the strong plot choices made earlier in the novel. However, this didn't really affect my opinion on the overall novel that much, compared to a different novel I read recently.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I adored The Wicked Cometh with all of its sumptuous details and lovable heroines! I was sucked into the plot straightaway and loved all of the dramatic twists and turns. I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in Historical Fiction and Mystery. I will definitely keeping my eye out for Laura Carlin's next novel.

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