Nathalie is a young columnist working for the local paper, writing their morgue column and immersing herself in the gritty underworld of Victorian era Paris. While she aspires to gain renown as a respected writer, she instead submits her daily story dressed as a man, with only her parents and editor any the wiser as to her true identity.
When reporting upon a recent bloody murder, Nathalie finds herself drawn into a world she doesn’t understand after having a vision of the young lady’s grisly demise. Not knowing where her powers come from and fearing for the lives of her friends when more bodies begin to appear, Nat must go on a journey of self discovery to uncover the identity of the Dark Artist before it is too late.
So Nathalie is a girl of 16. Unlike today’s 16 year olds however, she is smart and street-wise, knowing when to push and when to let things go. While her friends are off learning how to be a lady and a fantastic wife for the men they will soon court and marry, Nat is attending the coroners office every day so she may report on societies demise. Being female, she has a hard slog. Noone would actually want to advertise that they have a female writer, so instead she writes from the shadows, accrediting her work to a made up man. She’s a trooper, unwittingly facing the Dark Artist and his lady friend on multiple occassions, none the wiser until the final pages. I liked her but something was off, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it to be honest.
Her friends, Agnes and Simone, are polar opposites of one another. Agnes is a lady, writing letters to Nathalie while on holidays and bringing her back gifts from the seaside when she returns. Simone on the other hand is brash and feels kind of judgemental of everything Nat does (she’s kind of mean but everyone has that nasty friend they just adore). I feel the dichotomy of these two characters really helped to expand Nathalie’s persona, allowing her to be better understood by the reader.
The token love interest within the piece, was well placed and a little unexpected. I was so very happy to find that while it is mentioned and there is a sweet moment or two, after his admission that he is taken, Nathalie backs off and it is never mentioned again. In recent years, the ‘love interest’ trope seems to have become a must have in novels and I found it refreshing that in Spectacle, it was such a minor occurrence that it had absolutely no effect on the story (To you Ms Zdrok, I raise my glass for going against the stream).
Now, as I said earlier, this novel is set in Victorian era Paris. There is a public viewing for every corpse that comes the coroners way. There’s dank, dark underground tunnels. Some filthy streets add to the ambience of the whole thing. It is basically a setting deserving of any good Penny Dreadful novel of the era. Add in a Jack The Ripper-esque villain in The Dark Artist and you have the makings of a fantastic novel. Everything is spot on, mostly…
Here is where I wish to mention the down sides. It felt a little like I had heard it before. As I said in the previous paragraph, it has all the eerie setting and mass murder you would expect to see in a Penny Dreadful. And I am partial to a good Penny Dreadful story. Alas instead of feeling fresh and new, it felt a little like a retelling of Jack The Ripper rather than a whole new tale. Yes there were different aspects thrown in (I got to around 75% through and THOUGHT it was over but turns out it wasn’t), but at its core it felt a little like I had in part read it before.
Second, I want to point out the language. It has French which is all well and good. But the amalgamation of English and French, Spanglish-style, made me a little irritated. Then a little more until I got to a point where i skipped large chunks of the dialogue in one specific part (I had to go back and read it again because it was kind of important. Oops). While it is a seemingly small annoyance, it distracted from a fairly evenly paced, slow burn of a novel.
So, as a whole, I enjoyed Spectacle. It was well paced and oozed ambience. I liked the MC and loved her relationships with her friends. The villain of the piece was sinister at every turn, getting to be so self assured, he flouted his expertise in advance letters to the coroner by the end. While it had a very Jack The Ripper vibe, the Dark Artist brings his own sense of mischief, seemingly wanting to be caught whilst also wanting to stay in the shadows. The dialogue was a little too back and forth for my liking and the arc of the story felt a little cliched but overall, I found it an interesting read. It has therefore earnt itself a 4 star review from me.
Spectacle is Zdrok’s debut novel and releases 12th February 2019 from Tor.