Fiction that transports us back to another time can, at its best, make us feel at home in an era into which we’ve never set foot. Unless, of course, the author doesn’t want us to feel at home. In the realm of great fantasy fiction set in a past we think we know, it’s often to a storyteller’s advantage to lure us in with a false sense of familiarity, only to reveal something else entirely.
With Things in Jars, Jess Kidd has woven a spellbinding alternate version of Victorian London that is both recognizable and like getting lost in some mist-shrouded parallel world only spoken of in myths. It is into this version of London, where tattooed ghosts lurk near their own gravestones and seven-foot-tall housekeepers spend their idle time reading potboiler fiction, that Kidd drops Bridie Devine, a private detective with such distinctive style and intense charisma that we fall in love with her immediately.
Jess Kidd’s Victorian London is both recognizable and like getting lost in some mist-shrouded parallel world only spoken of in myths.
When we meet her, Bridie is coming off a tough, failed case, but she’s got a new one on the horizon. The secret child of a wealthy man is missing, and the child may be much more than just a lost little girl. Armed with her own wits and accompanied by an unlikely spectral assistant, Bridie sets out to learn the truth about the child and along the way finds some ties to a past she tried to leave behind.
Equal parts historical thriller and fabulist phantasm, Things in Jars is instantly compelling, but what sets it apart is the prose. There’s a playful, lithe familiarity to it as Kidd dances across delightfully apt phrases like a master. Even as the novel sweeps you up in its narrative, it also sweeps you up in its sentence-by-sentence construction, making it both a whirlwind read and a novel you could happily get lost in for weeks, dissecting every paragraph.
Things in Jars is the kind of lavish, elegant genre treat that makes you wish Kidd would churn out a new Bridie Devine mystery every three years until the end of time.