Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Jess Kidd is never afraid of pushing her novels in more imaginative directions, and with Things in Jars, her latest novel, she does just this once again, presenting us with Bridie Devine, a female detective extraordinaire finding most of her work in Victorian London’s underbelly. A case finds its way into her lap, and the repercussions are fated to be larger than anyone can anticipate; a girl with rumoured supernatural powers was kidnapped, and seemingly everyone else wants to get their hands on her.
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Jess Kidd Winds up the Paranormal Pursuit
As much as most of us enjoy our lives in the real world, the appeal of there being another universe, where the doors to what we consider impossible are opened, has never left our imagination. Much of our pop culture and media (books, shows, movies, television series, video games) aims to take us out of the real world and make us forget about it, if only for a little while.
Personally-speaking, I’ve always held the belief stories with supernatural elements still need to be strongly grounded in reality to be relatable and interesting, which is why I was fairly intrigued by Jess Kidd‘s latest novel, Things in Jars.
The plot takes us to Victorian London, one which is fairly reminiscent of the historical setting, but with a fair few anomalies hidden in its underbelly. Enter Bridie Devine, a female detective extraordinaire who has made a bit of a name for herself in her own little world. Having learned how to navigate the deceitful back alleys and hidden doors of the city, she is the perfect candidate to take on a case which threatens to violently shake up the delicate balance of the London Underworld.
Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick enlists Bridie’s services in order to help find his kidnapped daughter, a child with rumoured supernatural abilities. The case doesn’t take very long to veer into the realms of strangeness when Bridie discovers this so-called daughter is, in fact, a mermaid with razor-sharp teeth, and was part of Berwick’s personal collection of oddities.
Feeling his plight, from one collector to another, Bridie buckles down and begins the great search, bound to take her on increasingly twisting paths and dangerous roads. Alone, she’s unlikely to stand a chance… but with a few curious companions, the tides might begin to shift in her favour.
The Grounded Strangeness of Things in Jars
I think I’ve revealed enough about the book so far to show the kind of approach it takes to supernatural elements: it doesn’t seek to hide them, but rather to display them at convenient times. Despite their strong presence, I can’t say there was a moment where I ever felt the forces of fiction were outright overpowering the rules of the novel’s established reality. The supernatural elements are there to enhance the story and the investigation, and not the other way around.
The raven turns in her element and the world turns too, confirming what she already knew: she is the centre of everything.― Jess Kidd, Things in Jars
As I mentioned earlier, I believe supernatural novels ought to stay grounded enough for a few reasons, and besides making this novel more relatable, the realism also helps to contrast with the magical elements. In other words, if every second person in Things in Jars was also a mermaid or some sort of mythical creature, much of the impact of Bridie’s quest would have been lost. Instead, Kidd‘s insistence to maintain a certain level of fidelity to the real world and its laws makes the moments which defy it all the more impactful… and there are certainly a few of them.
For the most part, the paranormal stuff is relegated to strange people and beings, as well as their personal otherworldly pursuits. From an unusually tall maid to a ghost covered in tattoos, there is a pretty eccentric cast of characters and they never let us forget we’ve entered a world unlike our own.
Over the course of her journey Bridie ventures quite a bit from one location to the next, and at the same time she takes us on an excursion of what is essentially the hidden paranormal side of London, showcasing various oddities while still finding ways of tying them into the plot, ensuring the story keeps on moving one way or another.
The Journey of Countless Secrets
Moving on from the supernatural elements and their integration, I sincerely feel the plot of this book has something profoundly captivating about it, as if its playing with something on a primal or instinctual level. Primarily, I think this is due in large part not to the investigation itself, but the way it and everything else in the story are presented.
You must never watch a leaving friend out of sight, else you’ll not see them return.― Jess Kidd, Things in Jars
Kidd‘s writing is absolutely superb this time around, especially when it comes to the descriptions and the world-building. Every single place we enter is thoroughly described, and every person we come across is vividly portrayed. The author makes use of all our senses and thrusts us into a world we can come infinitely close to experiencing if we close our eyes and imagine it. If you let yourself slip into the world and its infinite secrets, it almost begins to feel real the further you get into the story, which allows you to feel connected to the events on a more personal level.
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In regards to the actual plot itself, everything is in Things in Jars woven tightly and professionally, having us follow a cohesive and logical path from start to finish. We do jump in time between 1843 and 1863 a fair bit, but the transitions are handled elegantly and the dual narrative is aptly used to drum up the intensity of certain mysteries, with everything leading to a rather enjoyable conclusion, which actually has a pretty good twist to it which doesn’t feel cheap, a sin many other books commit. Mixed in with some welcome moments of laugh-out-loud humour, the plot maintains a good enough pace and variety to never have a boring moment.
The Final Verdict
Things in Jars by Jess Kidd is a fantastic novel combining multiple genres together, hooking us with a comprehensively detailed setting which marries reality and the paranormal, and keeping us along for the ride with memorable characters and a few captivating mysteries to solve, besides the main investigation. If you are a fan of supernatural mysteries, and especially if you like the Victorian London setting, then I am very confident you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of this book.
VIDEO: Sinister & Supernatural Shenanigans with Jess Kidd | May 2019
Jess Kidd is a British writer hailing from Richmond in the United Kingdom with a degree in Literature at The Open University and a PhD in Creative Writing Studies.
Her debut novel, Himself, was published in 2016, and her second novel followed shortly after titled The Hoarder in the U.K. or Mr. Flood’s Last Resort in the United States. She is also currently developing some original TV projects with various U.K. Producers.