Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews
For ages 12 and up
Workman Publishing, 2014 ISBN: 978-1616203535
Abigail Rook was raised properly for a girl from her class. There was always the expectation that when she was old enough she would find a suitable young man, marry, and settle down. However, her father, who works as an anthropologist and paleontologist, has passed down his “thirst for discovery” to his daughter. Precocious Abigail worked hard in school and begged to go to university, which her mother finally acceded to. Then Abigail realized that she would much rather be out in the real world “uncovering real history” rather than “suffering through dusty textbooks.” She wanted to do what her father did; to make exciting discoveries and have adventures. She begged her father to take him on his next expedition and when he refused, because “the field was no place for a young lady,” she took her university tuition money and joined an expedition that was going to the Carpathian Mountains.
For months she worked on a dig until the project ran out of money. Abigail was in a German seaport seeking out a passage back to England, ready to go back to the real world, when she was given the opportunity to go to the United States; and she took it. She would rather go somewhere new than try to fit back into her old life.
Thus it is that Abigail Rook arrives in the New England port town of New Fiddleham on a cold winter’s night in 1892. She has very little money, no prospects, and is alone. She goes into an inn and pays for a night’s lodging by washing dishes. In the inn she meets a strange man who seems to know a great deal about her and she figures out that he must be a detective. She learns from the inn’s patrons that some people think that the man, Mr. R.F. Jackaby, is a “charlatan,” while others consider him to be a “godsend.’
The next morning Abigail sets out to find a job. No one seems to have any openings, not even the post office, but then Abigail sees an advertisement on a notice board. An “Investigative Services” company is in need of an assistant and the requirements seem manageable. Abigail goes to the address on the flyer only to find that the man who requires an assistant is none other than Mr. Jackaby. The man is about to leave his house to visit the scene of a crime and Abigail goes with him. On the way she discovers that Mr. Jakaby apparently can see house spirits, fairies and the like. She does not know what to think of the whole thing, and things get only more confusing when they arrive at the scene of a murder.
The victim has had his chest slashed open and the killer seems to have taken some of the man’s blood with him. As Abigail and Jackaby dig deeper they figure out that the man was a reporter, and he appeared to be investigating a series of murders that were committed in the region, all of which were very similar. Clearly the reporter was on the track of a serial killer and one can only suppose that he got too close and paid with his life.
As they investigate, Abigail and Jackaby encounter a banshee that is wailing because a man is going to die, and sure enough he ends up being killed by the serial killer. Then she meets the ghost that lives in Jackaby’s house, and his former assistant, who was transformed into a duck during an investigation. She is introduced to an old woman who, like Jackaby, can see the monsters, fairies and other creatures that live amongst us, but that normal people cannot see because they lack the ability to do so. Abigail is warned by several people not to work with Jackaby, but she chooses not to listen to them. Though she has not been working for Jackaby long, Abigail has, in Jackaby’s company, “experienced more genuine adventure than in all my time at home or my travels abroad.” Jackaby is something of a mystery, and she never knows what is going to happen next when she is with him, but she likes the thrill of the hunt. Abigail never imagines that the hunt will put her in mortal danger.
This is the first book in what promises to be a wonderful series. The way in which the characters develop and grow as the story unfolds is fascinating, and the world that Jackaby sees is both compelling and at times quite dreadful.