Author: Amy Carol Reeves
Genre: historical fiction, mystery, young-adult
Pages: 340 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected April 8 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
In 1888, following her mother's sudden death, 17-year-old Arabella Sharp goes to live with her grandmother in a posh London neighborhood. At her grandmother's request, Abbie volunteers at Whitechapel Hospital, where she discovers a passion for helping the unfortunate women and children there. But within days, female patients begin turning up brutally murdered at the hands of Jack the Ripper.
Is there any London figure more re-imagined, re-invented or rebooted than Jack the Ripper? I love Ripper novels, macabre as they might be. I've read several fiction and literature takes on the murders, and am always on the lookout for a creepy mystery revolving around his spree in the 1880s. Even the young-adult genre isn't free from multiple different versions of the serial killer; in addition to this soon-to-be published historical fiction, there is also another book version of the infamous monster penned by Stefan Petrucha, due out the beginning of March. The question I was most curious about during my read of Ripper was deciding whether or not Reeves version of the nightmare in human form succeeded on its own merit or whether it was a pale shadow of another version. While several parts of Ripper were quite diverting, creepy and fun, the strength of the novel rests on the mystery at the heart of it and the surprisingly strong and likeable main character of Arabella Sharpe.
Abbie is 17, newly orphaned and at the mercy of ton-loving and strict grandmother. Unlike her society grandmother, Abbie is more concerned with doing what she wants than what society expects her to do. She's easily likeable, an obviously good egg, but not the most distinguishable main character/heroine I've ever come across. As the grand-daughter and ward of a titled noble, Abbie's non-traditional and nonconformist ways lead to repeated and heated confrontations with her elderly guardian, but damaged family history keeps the two together despite their differences. Abbie struggles throughout the book with more than just figuring out the culprit of the East End: the memory and legacy of her dead mother is an issue that Abbie fixates on, a marker by which she is constantly judging herself and finding herself wanting.
Outside of Abbie, the cast is functional if not spectacular. I didn't walk away from reading Ripper with a new book-boyfriend or even a book-crush. One of the problems therein is that there is, of course, a love triangle at the heart of Abbie's romantic life. Even though I failed to believe the attraction to either male party, I have to admit it wasn't as much of a focus in the novel as I had initially feared. Both William and Simon do seem a bit too perfect to be real/believeable (Simon's manners and William's knowledge particularly) but, for once, they each appealed to unique and distinct aspects of Abbie's life. Simon represents the old life, the society, money and rules that Abbie has resisted for years, while William represents freedom, choices and the ability to determine her own rules. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses, and honestly, both would have clicked well with Abbie. While I will never be a fan of the love-triangle in a novel, especially YA novels, it is refreshing to read one where all parties have chemistry and a different appeal for the main character. It's not just a question of "who is hotter" or "Team [X]" but an actual decision Abbie must make with maturity, and hopefully, finality. No back-and-forth, wishywashy undecidedness between the two, thank you, please.
Victorian London is the perfect backdrop for such a murderous and mysterious tale - a society rigidly controlled and mannered while a madman flouts all civil convention right in the face of the populace. It illustrates perfectly that no matter how refined the world becomes, there is always danger lurking unseen. I admit to being someone that is fairly easily creeped out - I have a low scare threshold - and Ripper honestly got to me a few times. While it wasn't the bonechilling, look-over-your-shoulder-every-two-minutes experience like I had with reading the English-set Long Lankin (dear christ, that is a creeeepy book) Ripper does quite well at continually building up tension in the atmosphere as Abby races to solve the mystery. The only thing that struck a discordant with the setting and location of this novel is that none of the characters' speech patterns, slang or dialogue felt authentically 19th century London, All of which read like very modern (American?) English, and ruined any 1880's vibe the rest of the story carried.
Though I was disappointed by areas of this historical fiction, I would read another novel by this author featuring these characters. The ending, though a bit rushed in comparison to the pace of the bulk of the book, was action-packed and thoroughly satisfying. While some of the murderer's motivations are on the thin side of things, there's more good than bad in Amy Carol Reeves novel.