REVIEW: The Wicked Cometh, Laura Carlin

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The year is 1831. Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and no one is willing to speak out on behalf of the city's vulnerable poor as they disappear from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible. When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock. But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations. Hester and Rebekah find themselves crossing every boundary they've ever known in pursuit of truth, redemption and passion. But their trust in each other will be tested as a web of deceit begins to unspool, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking...

With The Wicked Cometh having near-universally positive reviews, I suppose this will stand as an unpopular opinion. Yeah, I’m not shocked either..
You know how some books you can hate and still understand how other people may like them? Yeah, this wasn’t one of those; every time I have thought about it since giving up on it, all I have experienced is a feeling of urgh-WHY. And this, for me, had all of the makings of a new favourite - a lesbian Victorian romance with a bit of mystery thrown in - but honestly, the romance was flat and instalove-ish, and the inclusion of the mystery made The Wicked Cometh feel like two very different books.
The tonal shift between the two main aspects of the story was just too much, and that issue was just exacerbated by the way the author chose to write the novel. Why, oh why, did they think it was a good idea to write a historical fiction novel in present-tense???? I just - I have no words. (Has anyone ever read a book written in present-tense that actually worked? Because I haven’t). It created a humongous disconnect between the reader and the narrative and was made even worse (if that is even possible) by the excessively flowery writing-style. I suppose that it was supposed to reflect the main character’s ‘good background’ and intellect, but the contrast between that and the overly-simplistic dialogue was just too much.
It also posed a problem for me, because it meant that the main character had the necessary cultural capital to be able to work her way out of poverty and that the main couple, although they may seem like it at first, didn’t cross class boundaries in their relationship. I know, I know, this may not seem like a big deal but you have to remember that, in the United Kingdom, the stratification of class is incredibly important and plays a factor in all media, either from this century or ones before it. And, despite the growing social mobility available to British citizens, back when The Wicked Cometh was set, if you were born or found yourself in poverty, you nearly-always died there.
The Wicked Cometh bypasses that, and instead makes its main character adopt a simpering caricature of the Victorian working class. She just changes her accent a bit and pretends to learn how to read, which is frankly more than a bit of a ridiculous narrative arc, and taDA, you have yourself a novel. Honestly, she is definitely leaning towards coming across as a Mary Sue, as she really doesn’t have any discernible flaws and she isn’t realistic to her environment because, despite the horrors that a real woman in her position in society would have almost certainly experienced, she remains remarkably unscarred.
And, why am I criticising the depiction of the novel’s depiction of class, I hear you ask? Because there is nothing else to criticise. 400-or-so pages and barely anything happens apart from vague mentions of people going missing and the main character falling in love at first sight with the woman teaching her to read. There is no chemistry between them, no anything, just god knows how many lines of I’m-intrigued-by-her and I-must stay-away-from-her.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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