A Jarring Experience

Things in Jars, by Jess Kidd, reviewed by Gregory G.H Rihn

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The new novel, Things in Jars, is of interest to Steampunks because it incorporates many tropes we tend to be fond of: Victorian detectives, questionably sane science, and things humankind was not meant to meddle with. It also plays off the Victorian Age rage for collecting, and the morbid interest in “freaks of nature” that gave rise to the circus sideshow. In a way, the book is rather like K.W. Jeter-light, if he didn’t have to make every single thing in a novel grotesque, and every character hateful.

The story’s protagonist is “Bridie” Devine, a female “investigator.” She is engaged by Sir Edmund Berwick to recover his kidnapped young daughter—a daughter no one outside his household knew existed, and who had been kept in strict seclusion all her life, due to her “peculiarities.” Bridie gets the job because she was successful in apprehending a prior kidnapper—but not before the kidnapped child was killed, an outcome that makes her question her usefulness.

Bridie has an interesting and convoluted backstory: she went from being the child assistant and protégé of a body-snatcher, to the fosterling of a kindly scientist. The exposure to learning she had there was an ideal situation for her, until she fell foul of her benefactor’s entitled and abusive son.

Bridie is no Sherlock Holmes, or even Lady Molly, but she brings common sense and determination to realistic detective work, played out against a background of determined villains, freak-obsessed showmen, and unscrupulous collectors. I found this a very enjoyable light read, with a suitably dire conclusion.

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