Things in JarsThings in Jars by Jess Kidd
Published by Atria Books on April 4, 2019
Pages: 369
View Title on Goodreads
Bantering Books Rating: five-stars

Bridie Devine, female detective extraordinaire, is confronted with the most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors trading curiosities in this age of discovery.
Winding her way through the labyrinthine, sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing a past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where spectacle is king and nothing is quite what it seems.
Blending darkness and light, history and folklore, Things in Jars is a spellbinding Gothic mystery that collapses the boundary between fact and fairy tale to stunning effect and explores what it means to be human in inhumane times.

Bantering Books Review

“There are things in jars.”

(Note: For optimal effect, the above quote should be read in a whispery, quivery, British-accented voice.)

Oh yes. There are many, many things in jars between the pages of Jess Kidd’s aptly titled novel — and they are all so brilliantly and twistedly delightful.

Bridie Devine, “pipe-smoking detective extraordinaire,” has just accepted quite the unusual case. Christabel Berwick, the secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, has been kidnapped right out from under the Baronet’s nose. Rumored to possess extraordinary mythical powers, it appears that Christabel may have attracted the unfortunate attention of those who specialize in the collection of peculiarities.

Urged on by the fatherly desperation of Sir Berwick, Bridie takes to the streets of Victorian London, determined to locate the young girl. Fortunately, Bridie has help from two unusual allies – Cora, Bridie’s seven-foot-tall giantess housemaid, and Ruby, a tattooed ghost from Bridie’s past. Together, the eccentric threesome must race against time to save Christabel from the clutches of those who wish to add one more prized possession to their cabinets of curiosities.

Earlier this year, I had the profound pleasure of reading Kidd’s debut novel, Himself, and I fell utterly in love with her writing. I adored the lovely mix of mystery and magical realism of the story; I was amazed by how skillfully the narrative was weaved. I discovered that Kidd’s writing is breathtakingly beautiful.

Since then, I have eagerly awaited my opportunity to read Things in Jars. My excitement and anticipation for this book have been difficult to contain. I have known without doubt that Kidd would not disappoint. I have known I would love every magnificent word of it.

And correct, I was.

Things in Jars is captivating. It is a clever, wonderfully creative, and mesmerizing gothic mystery. Masterfully blending magical realism and Irish folklore with the paranormal, Kidd tells a tale that is both unique and fantastical. I found myself completely under Kidd’s spell, wholly immersed in the enchantment of the story.

Kidd’s writing has a very whimsical air to it. (In my review of Himself, I even went so far as to compare her to Neil Gaiman – and I still fully stand behind that assessment.) Her prose is gorgeously lyrical and elegantly readable. All major and minor characters are fully developed, likable, and memorable. (I dare you to not love Bridie, Cora, and Ruby. I double dare you, even.)

Kidd establishes setting like no other – you can literally see, hear, feel, taste, and smell Victorian London, in all its dreary, dirty glory. (Although, I do think at times she gets a bit overly descriptive of certain scenes, to the point where the reader is dropped out of the story for a short period due to the large influx of information. But a minor complaint.) She sets a very wry, witty tone to the narrative, and she has such a knack for infusing warmth and humor into what is, indeed, an extremely dark story.

Aah yes . . . the darkness. Be forewarned — Things in Jars is not for the faint of heart. It is brutal and gruesome. It is bloody and gritty. There are scenes of disturbing animal cruelty and graphic surgical procedures. There is violence against women. (One violent scene against a female character, I found particularly bothersome because it seemed a bit gratuitous and unnecessary to the story. I could’ve done without it.)

To be certain, Things in Jars is not without its horrors. And know that these horrors make for squeamish moments of reading.

But to Kidd’s credit, she somehow manages to deftly offset all that darkness with light. Again, her writing is so charming and funny, and she brings such whimsy to the story, that it’s almost as if she masks, or cloaks, the gruesomeness. Or sort of smudges the edges of the blackness to where it all becomes a bit fuzzy. Or gently nudges the reader’s focus more towards the light, rather than the dark. It’s quite remarkable, the perfect balancing act she achieves between such a stark dichotomy.

And that melding of dark and light is part of what makes Things in Jars such a special read.

Mystery lovers, magical realism lovers, just plain ol’ good fiction lovers – do not miss this one. I wholeheartedly recommend it . . . and hope that this will not be our first and only adventure with Bridie Devine.

May there be many more to come.