In the literal sense, “don’t judge a book by its cover” could not be more hypocritical for bibliophiles, for most, if not all, readers, will pick up a book if the cover intrigues them. An interesting cover will make anyone whose eye it catches pick it up and read the back. Sometimes the synopsis grips the potential reader’s attention, sometimes it doesn’t. When it does, such as Ishbelle Bee’s The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath: From the Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq., Volume 1, one is very excited to read it. Sometimes the book meets expectations. Unfortunately for Bee’s debut novel, it seems to lack much of what it promises.
It is 1888, Victorian London. A young girl named Mirror was trapped inside a clock by her grandfather, but this clock was strange and something else was in the clock before Mirror was. After being rescued by a burly cop named Goliath Honey-Flower, both him and her gain mysterious powers. Goliath takes it upon himself to become Mirror’s guardian and for good reason. A man named John Loveheart is looking for her for his adoptive father, Mr. Fingers. Mr. Fingers happens to be the ruler of the underworld and he has his sights set on Mirror and the otherworldly powers she gained from the clock. Why would Mr. Fingers want a little girl with strange powers? So that he may eat her, of course.
Bee’s novel is considered an adult fairy tale. What adult doesn’t like fairy tales, much less ones written strictly for adults? These types of tales can go deeper and darker than any child’s story ever could and just from the synopsis (as well as the colorful cover) of Bee’s debut, deep and dark sound like just the type of world a reader would find. The story is most certainly dark; however, what lacks is the depth.
A major detail that was missing from the story was, well, details. There was a healthy mix of dialog and narrative paragraphs, but the narratives were very vague in their descriptions. It would tell what the characters were doing, but it did not explain much about where the characters actually were. It seemed very rushed: the characters would walk through a door and then immediately sit down in the room, they would sit in a hall and someone would immediately start talking, etc. Where are the details? What does the building look like? What is in the room? What do the characters look like? The lack of these types of detail made it difficult to picture what the characters looked like and where they were. However, even with the missing detail, the characters were what really carried the story along.
Both carrying and dropping the story throughout the book’s entirety, the characters were well written and confusing at the same time. Beginning with the good, the characters really were well written. They had depth (the one place where depth actually was in the story) and they each had their own personality. Their dialog between each other is quirky and fun to read most of the time, and yet, the dialog is also where the characters reached their downfall. The dialog was nicely executed, but it did not seem like dialog from Victorian London. When one thinks of Victorian London, one would probably think of a more sophisticated language and words not used often in the language of today for they would seem too proper. Bee’s execution of the language “of the time” seemed more a language “of today” which made it more difficult to remember the setting of the story is taking place during the late 1800s.
Pressing ever onward, the book is called The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath… Where are Mirror and Goliath? These two characters the book is named after are hardly in the story. They are present for most of the beginning, disappear throughout most of the middle, then reappear briefly for the conclusion. Readers want to know more about these two: Mirror is a little girl (roughly around eight years old) who has powers even she doesn’t know about and Goliath, her bear of a protector, can shapeshift. These sound fascinating, but the readers hardly get to see Mirror or Goliath use their powers to their full potential. Not to mention their relationship is incredibly odd. What starts out as a father-daughter relationship turns into a man-loves-woman relationship (read the story if curious about this phenomenon). It just seems very… wrong.
One of the main reasons it is difficult to follow along with the story at times is the point of view Bee chose to write in. She wrote in the first person, which is always fun for readers to enjoy for they feel like they are in the character’s shoes. However, when the reader is in ten different pairs of shoes, it is difficult to keep track of whose shoes one is standing in. Each chapter is a new character and it would have read more smoothly if Bee had chosen to write, say, only Mirror in the first person and then the remainder of the characters in third person. Or even all of the characters in third person. Along with the constant jumping between characters was the constant jumping between times. The book constantly jumped between months and years, basically telling the story in flashbacks. Flashbacks are wonderful and explain backstories beautifully, but these flashbacks were one of the main reasons Mirror and Goliath were hardly in the story. Sure, some of the flashbacks were of Mirror and Goliath, but it wasn’t about them together.
What sounds like a wonderfully intriguing fairy tale for older readers does not reach its potential as it disappoints said readers by falling flat throughout most of the story. With the characters and dialog at least keeping the reader’s interested until the end, it becomes confusing to follow, jumping back and forth between characters and times. The inconsistencies with the present day feeling of the setting compared to the Victorian London setting it should be embracing make the reader feel disappointed and wanting the time period the synopsis promised. Do not judge this book by its cover: it is incredibly colorful and the synopsis promises child-like fun, but it hardly contains what intrigues readers simply from reading the back. If one is looking for an amazing piece of fiction, do not read Bee’s book. If one is looking for a mindless read to finish within a day, Bee’s debut could be just the book one is looking for.