Spectacle, by Jodie Lynn Zdrok
Publish Date: February 12, 2019
Published by: Tor Teen
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Mystery/Paranormal
My Rating: ★★★☆☆ (2.5 out of 5 stars)
**I received this as an egalley from the publisher through Netgalley, and as a physical ARC through my workplace, in return for an honest review.**
Sixteen-year-old Nathalie Baudin writes the daily morgue column for Le Petit Journal. Her job is to summarize each day’s new arrivals, a task she finds both fascinating and routine. That is, until the day she has a vision of the newest body, a young woman, being murdered–from the perspective of the murderer himself.
When the body of another woman is retrieved from the Seine days later, Paris begins to buzz with rumors that this victim may not be the last. Nathalie’s search for answers sends her down a long, twisty road involving her mentally ill aunt, a brilliant but deluded scientist, and eventually into the Parisian Catacombs. As the killer continues to haunt the streets of Paris, it becomes clear that Nathalie’s strange new ability may make her the only one who can discover the killer’s identity–and she’ll have to do it before she becomes a target herself.
So much of me want to like this book more than I did. I was intrigued from the summary, and was looking forward to it very much. And the beginning started off well. But slowly, over the course of the novel, I found myself losing interest as the writing took off on tangents that felt unnecessary to the plot, and only mildly interested in the characters themselves.
I think what initially drew me to this story was its setting. I enjoy historical fiction a lot, and have a soft spot for things that take place near or around the turn of the twentieth century. And the fact that this was in Paris was also a plus – I don’t see a lot of period pieces in the late 1800’s being set in France, at least not that I’ve seen. But while this is what intrigued part of my interest, the excution of setting the scene was not that great. Places around France would be mentioned to help set the scene, but never having been there, I had no idea what they looked like or where they were in relation to anything else. And to add to poor setting-writing, so to say, the characters would constantly throw out random phrases in French, despite the rest of the sentence being in English. Yes I know they are speaking French, they are in France, so having these random phrases thrown in feels redundant and at times annoying. All I can think of is that episode of Doctor Who when Donna tried to speak Latin in Latin and got a funny look from a Pompeiin.
As for the plot itself, it just never felt concise. First there were the murders, the Dark Artist, and Nathalie discovering she has this power to see the murders through the killer’s eyes. At first a lot of the story focused on Nathalie and her trying to understand this power and how she came to have it, which is reasonable, with a nice balance of the murder investigation and mystery. Interspersed were scenes and descriptions of people and Paris that, while nice and made a somewhat sad attempt at setting the scene, did very little in terms of moving the story along. And then, somewhere along the way, the focus of the story became solely on her magical ability and the history of how it may have come to be, and I felt like the entire murder thing was almost forgotten. It luckily came back in the end, but only after a certain catalystic event took place that caused Nathalie to decide to put her ability to use instead of being afraid of it.
The whole magic thing itself felt a little strange and hard to swallow. There were explanations of course, but the idea of it didn’t really make any traction until about a third of the way into the story, when explanations about a Dr. Henard and his experiments with blood tranfusions started to make their way into the plotline as though they were a regular part of history, and not something of this work Zdrok created. I just wish his name or the word “Insightfuls” had been mentioned beforehand, to sort of lead the way into this system of magic that apparently exists in this world. As such, the whole explanation that he was able to give people abilities by giving them a blood transfusion mixed with some unspecified chemicals didn’t really feel like a strong magic system in and of itself.
As for the characters, I think they were a bit of a relief in the long-run, but they were sadly diminished by the plot and storyline. Nathalie is strong-willed and caring, doing what she must to help out after her mother had an accident that left her unable to work. I actually enjoyed the fact that she does not want to have to dress as a boy when she goes to the newspaper office, because she wants to be seen as a girl and respected for what she does just the same. I was also proud of her for not wanting to use her power when events were starting to get to close to her and she was beginning to get scared of the consequences of using her ability. It was a fair response, and I was proud of her for making that decision.
The secondary characters were all interesting, but being seen through Nathalie’s eyes were sometimes exaggerated in their different traits. I liked that Zdrok tried to give all of the characters distinct personalities, but I just don’t know if we saw enough of all of them on the page at any given moment to really get a full understanding of their characters.
I think the only thing concerning the characters themselves that I was disappointed in was the vague and not-really-there romance between Nathalie and Christophe. He was mentioned in the beginning and it was clear that Nathalie had feelings for him, but then he just dropped off of the face of the earth for a good chunk of the story, only to finally resurface again what felt like nearly halfway through the book later. They spend their time together smiling and chatting and softly flirting, but they spend so little time together and discuss nothing outside of the investigation that it’s hard to tell if there is actually anything there. I was honestly hoping they would have been working closely together from the start if there was to be anything romantically there. [SPOILER] In fact, towards the end of the book, Christophe mentioned a fiancee and I thought, oh well guess there wasn’t actually anything there. But then later he confronts Nathalie about her apparent feelings for him, and he blatantly says that if he weren’t already engaged that he might have acted upon his feelings towards Nathalie, and the girl was flattered. Seriously?? The fact that he’s engaged to be married but is willing to admit his feelings for another woman doesn’t ring any warning bells? No instead you’re getting all gushy and giddy over him. Please.[END SPOILER] And while I’m not against no romance in a book, I’d prefer it if I weren’t teased with it first.
As for the ending, I thought how the murder investigation wrapped was interesting and suspenseful, but not exactly heart-pounding. And the very ending? I’m not sure if this means there is supposed to be a sequel or not because it felt like it just ended abruptly.
This book had a promising start and some potentially interesting characters, but with a plot that fell off into tangents and didn’t seem to be able balance different focuses well, it felt like it dragged at times and was too fast at others, all the while causing me as a reader to lose interest. This sadly just did not captivate me the way I wished it would.