I was really excited to read a book in the horror category for the Read Harder Challenge because, though it is not often my go-to genre, I’ve really enjoyed horror novels in the past. (Did anyone else have nightmares from reading a Goosebumps book before bed?)
I’m really interested in history, particularly 1920s American history, and so when I found this book I didn’t think a more perfect one existed. I actually did my history dissertation for my degree on women’s sexuality in 1920s New York and this is explored a fair amount in the book. The book was written by Libba Bray which got me even more excited because I really enjoyed Beauty Queens.
The summary from Goodreads states:
Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.
Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.
As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.
I started to read this book a few months ago and couldn’t really get into it. Though I loved the characters and the setting, I thought the plot was slow and I didn’t find myself thinking about the book when I wasn’t reading it. (I had really high expectations for this book and I think that ruined it for me a little.) It wasn’t a bad introduction to the story by any means, I just wasn’t hooked from the start.
So a couple of months later (I was still convinced I would enjoy the book if I really committed to it) I downloaded the audiobook using a free trial on Audible. And I loved it! It was very long – eighteen and a half hours! – but I finished it in only a couple of weeks. I listened to it mostly on my walk to the bus and the bus journey to work, and it made the journey far more interesting, and scarier too! The audiobook is read by January LeVoy and she does an excellent job at distiguishing between the different characters’ voices.
Essentially it is a 1920s supernatural horror story. There are ghosts and powers far beyond recognition or understanding, and this makes it feel so much more real. The book is incredibly atmospheric. Particularly when listening to the audiobook, readers can really feel like they are in the roaring twenties. I found myself envying the dresses and the parties and wishing I were part of that world!
Until John Hobbs comes along. John Hobbs is the perfect villain. Throughout the story Evie, Will and their companions are trying to become one step ahead of Naughty John, but John is cunning. We, as readers, don’t fully understand John’s abilities or motives or beliefs or history, because our main characters don’t either. We learn as Evie and the team learn. He is creepy and myterious and utterly perfect for this story.
Like I said before, I am particularly interested in this era and the changing perceptions of women and expressions of sexuality. This was portrayed wonderfully through the main three female characters in the book: Evie, Mabel and Theta. We see differing approaches to womanhood. Evie is the stereotypical twenties flapper whereas Mabel is weary of that image, and Theta embraces her sexuality on stage at the Follies.
What I really enjoyed about this book was how understated the romances were. Sure, there was some flirting and tension and potential for romance, but it wasn’t a significant part of the story. It’s so refreshing to read a young adult book that doesn’t heavily feature a teenage romance!
For me, the thing that was most interesting was the discussion of belief throughout. Belief is an important motivating factor throughout this entire novel. Does belief justify action? It takes an interesting look at religion and humanity and how far ones beliefs can justify their actions.
Overall I’d give this book five out of five stars – it was incredible! I have a long coach journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap coming up this weekend so I’m looking forward to listening to Lair of Dreams on the way!