This is an old book! I’m not sure why no one has told me to read it, seeing as it has two sequels and it’s really good, but alas, I had to find it on my own and I’m glad I did.
Jackaby by William Ritter
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on August 25th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Thriller, Historical Fiction, Romance, Friendship, Mystery
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles
Final Review: 4 out of 5 ★★★★☆
The quote on the front of the book, by the Chicago Tribune, somewhat accurately sums up this book: “Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer”–I’m not sure I see the Buffy part, other than banishing demons, but certainly the Sherlock Holmes part. Particularly because Jackaby himself is quite quirky and odd, much like Sherlock or the eleventh Doctor.
The story follows immigrant Abigail Rook, who, coming from England, is searching for a job that can pay her enough so she can live, and seeing as it’s 1893, finding a place to sleep at night in the warmth is important. She stumbles upon an advertisement for Jackaby, an assistant in his investigative service, and the rest is the book. What really drives readers in is the mystery entwined with fantasy to the point that it seems real: there is some sort of demon on the loose, killing victims for their blood (oh here’s the vampire reference). Abigail, never having heard of any of this before, is of course bewildered but stays strong, thinking the murders are a mere sick joke.
What makes this book different however, which is important because the similarities to Sherlock Holmes are quite striking, is the charming demeanor of everyone but Jackaby. Of course he’s going to be odd, carrying around tons of random objects in his pockets, drinking potions that allow him to see through walls and what not–all of this is almost expected seeing as it is a piece of fantasy writing. However, having Abigail be a strong and smart woman–she wanted to be a paleontologist!–instead of necessarily a damsel in distress (she does have her few moments though, since we all do!) makes for an interesting pair. Ritter also could have made Abigail and Jackaby love interests to each other, and refreshingly so, he didn’t. Instead, there are certainly underlying backstory regarding Jackaby’s past, as well as Abigail’s, that keeps the reader turning the pages.
Furthermore, the non-lead characters, such as the ghost roommate, Jenny and the strange ghost-seer Hatun, are potentially more intriguing and just as influential as Jackaby. Women are important in Jackaby’s life, in fact all the female characters, save for a few classic strumpets who hate Abigail for not being more proper, are linked to the fantastical realm and are sought after by Jackaby. Hatun, for example, is described as:
see[ing] a different world than [Abigail] or [Jackaby], a far more frightening one, full of far more terrible dangers, and still she chooses to be the hero whom that world needs. She has saved this town and its people from countless monsters countless times. That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest battles always are (104).
Hatun may be called the crazy lady that takes care of an invisible troll to the towns folk, but to Jackaby, she is truly necessary in solving this case. Jenny, the ghost roommate, makes Abigail feel more at home, being the one to talk her down when the magical realm becomes too much her to handle, and allows her to steal the clothes Jenny can no longer wear (since she’s a ghost). Miss. O’Connor and Mrs. Morrigan are, as well, crucial to the murder investigation. And, of course, Abigail, being another set of eyes for Jackaby at all times. Ritter may unconsciously or consciously alerting the readers that no man can ever truly do anything on their own, and when they do, in the case of the bad guy (no spoilers here!), they will undoubtedly get caught by a woman.
At first, I was really hoping this story would be an historical, fantastical twist on the classic Jack the Ripper open case. Jack the Ripper being some sort of fantastical, demon-like creature, that instead of stealing organs to do god knows what with, is either eating them or using them for something else, much like the strange creature Abigail and Jackaby face here. Then, Jackaby, being able to see things that no one else can, would understand that he is simply a misunderstood demon and needs to be sent forth from our world–that’s how I would have wrote this story and maybe in one of the sequels, the story continues (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t looked at them yet).
Please give this book a chance, given its age, if you’re interested in something fun and quirky to read. Jackaby is laughable and the character relationships are deep. I haven’t decided if I’m going to pick up the next two books, more because I have so many books to read already and less because I don’t want to. Jackaby doesn’t necessarily end on a cliff hanger, but it certainly does end with the reader interested in learning more about the dynamic duo.