Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: Men, Women, and Monsters: A Treatise On The Supranatural In Victorian England (Or A Review of Charles Fletcher's The Oversight)

I came to The Oversight during a forced holiday after a long dry spell absent of any fiction. It was just what I needed. This is a playful gothic fantasy that starts in the gas-lit, fog-drenched streets of Victorian-era London, and follows an ages old coterie, now deeply diminished, known officially as the “Free Company for the Regulation and Oversight of Recondite Exigency and Supranatural Lore.” What does this mean? It means magic, but more significantly, it means supernatural monsters, the Sluagh of Irish and Scottish folklore. The supernatural, forgive me, supranatural elements of the story are not overblown, but are rather understated and often lend a tasty eeriness to the story. This is a story with a strong sense of atmosphere and well-handled pacing and complexity, all tied together with capable and often elegant prose.

The characters of The Oversight borrow from a broad range of literary archetypes. This is certainly a plot-driven story, but I find the characters interesting and compelling despite their lack of internal development. These are characters as we find in the best serials, be they comics, penny dreadfuls, or Dickensian tales. And they are bolstered with a sense of authenticity by the summoning of the likes of such real-history characters as John Dee, Rabbi Dr Hayyim Samuel Falk, and the 17th century encylopedist and esotericist Sir Thomas Browne. (The quotes from Browne are real, while Falk’s writings are fictional, and Dee makes a cameo appearance.) Fletcher even appropriates the historical dispute between two 19th century conjurors, Barnardo Eagle and John Henry Anderson. This blending of the real and the imaginative brings depth and life to the story.

The Oversight is the first novel of the Oversight Trilogy, and the second installment, The Drowning Glass, is not due out until May 2015.

I’m waiting impatiently.

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