Rating: 3 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | All Romance
Caleb Donnithorn has requested the Society for Psychical and Esoteric Research’s help, and sending Jacob van Willigen is their answer. Jacob goes without question as he is loyal to the Society through and through. His orders from Brother Inish are to destroy the machine that Caleb is constructing while acting like he’s really offering Caleb help. He is also informed that Caleb just may be a Watcher—a Grigori—and Jacob is told he may have to destroy Caleb himself.
Once Jacob makes it to the isolated castle and meets the strange inhabitants, he begins to realize there is more going on than it seems. He is drawn to Caleb, but he can’t quite understand why. He makes friends with Victor Frankenstein, and has run-ins with Mary Shelley and Ada Lovelace, as well as Caleb’s wife, Justine. He begins to put some pieces together as he studies Caleb. As he’s drawn further into Caleb’s world, Jacob starts questioning his own memories about his life.
What may be most shocking of all is when Caleb reveals the truth, about himself and about what Jacob truly is. Shaken, Jacob returns to the Society. There, he confronts Brother Inish about what is real and what the Society has kept from Jacob. When Jacob learns what is happening back at castle Donnithorn, he races back, determined to save Caleb if he can.
The Lovely Beast is a strange mix of historical, steampunk, and supernatural. I was really intrigued by the premise, and I very much wanted to like this book. But I have to admit that I spent much of the book simply…lost. I just didn’t understand a lot of what was going on. I had to take numerous breaks, and I just couldn’t get drawn into the story. In fact, if I’m completely honest, I had to make myself finish the book.
The one thing the author does exceptionally well is give us a vivid and fantastic description of the world these characters inhabit. From the pneumatic tubes that carry messages and trains, to the little clockwork devices that clean or heat food, to the boiler systems that heat the house, to the conveyances that people use to get around, Cook draws an incredibly clear picture of the steampunk aspects of this book. I really loved this part, and found myself intrigued and enamored with each new machine or automata revealed. Likewise, Cook has a way of painting the scenes so that I had no trouble visualizing the scenery, the rooms, or each little detail of the surroundings.
But sadly, this is the only part of the story that really appealed to me. The narrative jumps back and forth between the different POVs of the MCs, and it is always in the first person. While most chapters and section breaks have a header letting us know in whose head we are, they don’t all have them, and there were times where it took me paragraphs to orient myself. Also, we are treated to portions that are Jacob’s diary entries, portions that are Caleb’s version of a journal, and still others that are, I think, in “real time.” I found this jarring, and it didn’t flow smoothly for me. While a great deal of this book was told in first person present tense, there were moments and scenes that were first person past. It depended on whose head we were in in, or if it was a journal entry or not, but I found it very unsettling and disrupted the storytelling for me.
Jacob is a righteous man who has studied philosophy and the law, and his loyalty is firmly to the Society that has given him purpose. He deals with the supernatural threats within the purview of the Church, just like any good member of the Society should. I did like that he had his own set of moral codes and wasn’t just a blind follower, but that was just about the only characterization of Jacob that stood out to me.
Caleb has his own crosses to bear. His family was cursed—at least that’s what he says—and he is forced to carry out the family tradition of helping usher those on the verge of death into the afterlife. But I found him incredibly inconsistent. Gentle and loving with some, a bit lost at times, and then harsh and mean to others. I never quite understood why he reacted to some people in one manner, and then others in a wholly different way.
I didn’t connect to the characters at all, and I didn’t feel the connection between Jacob and Caleb. In fact, I didn’t much care one way or the other about them. I felt so far removed from the story, simply because of the way it was structured, that I just didn’t feel anything towards the MCs at all. I felt like I should care. But I just didn’t.
I think this was, in part, due to the great deal of secrets going on. Cook tried to parcel out the information in little bits, dragging out the information so as not to give us too much too soon. However, for me, it felt like not enough at all. As I said earlier, I was lost a lot of the time and I just kept plugging along, hoping that I would get the answers. Some of them came after a great deal of time and story had passed, so much so that I had forgotten it was a query at all. I also found it a little jarring that certain aspects—like the fact that Jacob’s true mission was to destroy the machine—were revealed before the halfway point, and when characters were given this information, they hardly seemed to react. There were very few times the characters reacted like I expected and I was mostly in a state of confusion, not able to understand their behavior. And the parts that I would have liked to see explained, or at least given more information about, just didn’t happen or happened so far removed that it didn’t matter to me anymore.
The truth is, this book just missed the mark for me. Even though the set up was fantastic, I just couldn’t get into the story. My confusion through much of the plot kept me from really enjoying what good was there.
Cover: I simply loved this cover by L.C. Chase. It really captured the feel, and in my opinion the good parts of the story, incredibly well.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.