By: David Liss
This 19th century historical fiction novel blurs the line between magic and alchemy, with secret societies, and appearances by Lord Byron, so naturally I loved it. However, for some inexplicable reason, I found I was reading it very slowly. Perhaps I was just in a slow reading kind of mood, or maybe the misery of the main character and how unfairly she was treated was a little bit of a turn off. These elements are completely necessary to the story of course, but that still might have slowed my pace a bit. That all changed once I was down to the last hundred pages or so. What had taken weeks to slowly absorb, I wrapped up easily in one day. By that point in the story everything starts to come together beautifully and surprising details are revealed about characters and events introduced in the first three hundred pages.
The main character, Lucy Derrick, is gutsy but painfully aware of her limitations, and I appreciated the honesty in that. How does a young woman in nineteenth century England truly fight evil while keeping within the inflexible boundaries of society? To put it simply, I liked her, and I’m a little surprised that such a convincing female character was written by a male author.
At the very beginning of the story Lucy is instructed to “gather the leaves,” and I love what that phrase comes to mean later in the book. I also happened to learn a new word as a result of reading this book…so that’s always nice. It was used twice, and now I don’t think I’ll ever forget it: Somnambulist: a sleepwalker
*** SPOILERS! ***
Normally, I like to stay away from specifics, but there was one thing I wanted to comment on anyway. So if you have any plans to read this book you might want to stop here. Read on at your own risk. (Highlight to read)
This might not be that much of a spoiler really, but I just had to mention the awesomeness of the Mutus Liber. A book without words. A simple concept and yet captivating at the same time. This object was so well described with it’s bizarre imagery, and the energy it seemed to possess within its pages, that I truly wished I could hold it in real life. The book felt very real, which made Lucy’s quest for it all the more meaningful.
Overall, this was a good read, with it’s combination of historical events, magic spells, and characters who aren’t what they first appear to be. I’ll have to have a look at David Liss’ other books the next time I’m craving some historical fiction. Until then…