It’s currently 9:09am on a Thursday morning and I don’t think I slept more than thirty minutes last night. Huh. I guess that’s what a good book does to you.
I discovered Jennifer Donnelly in the late spring of 2014. My friend and I had been aimlessly browsing the library shelves when she’d caught sight of Revolution. Upon completion, I immediately went to the closest bookstore to buy my own copy. It has since gone on to be one of my favorite books. When I uncovered it during The Move, I decided to check and see if Ms. Donnelly had released any other books in recent years. She had.
Though how it’s taken me this long to get my hands on These Shallow GravesI’m still not sure.
Page count: 482
Read time: One (very sleepless) night
Actual estimated read time: About 9.5 hours, adjusted for bathroom breaks (human and puppy)
What’s it about?
Josephine Montfort, also known as Jo (or Josie Jones), is a character that lends herself naturally to the page. At first glance she’s the definition of a Gilded Age Young Lady, but there’s more to her. She follows the rules, but she has a daring desire to be free. She looks up to Nellie Bly, a fearless female reporter who bent all the rules to report a story that would have long-term effects on the way society viewed mental institutions.
But a character alone is not a story. First ruled an accident, then a suicide, and finally a murder, Jo is at the heart of the unofficial investigation into her father’s death. With all the authorities being bribed to keep their mouths shut, it falls onto her shoulders to act as the investigative reporter and discover what happened.
In order to do so, she has to work with people society says she shouldn’t be associating with at all. Jo befriends a thieving girl, a coroner’s assistant, and a young reporter with more ambition than sense. All in all, it’s a beautiful period piece revolving around New York in the late nineteenth century.
Obviously, I enjoyed this book. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have stayed up all night reading. The things that stuck out to me the most were the characterization of Jo, the time period, and the voice.
Not a single significant character in this book suffered from being one-dimensional. A driving factor for Jo was her desire to be free to do as she pleased, to be independent. Near the end of the book, it is shown that she isn’t the only one with these desires, and these sentiments aren’t from the obvious choices, either. The cast in this book was done marvelously.
As for time period, I greatly enjoyed the details that made this book feel authentic. Laudanum was a common medicine in the Victorian era, which overlaps with the Gilded Age. It has some of the hallmarks of a Victorian novel-asylums, murder, dark alleys-but also mentions real historical figures, names people familiar with New York’s history would recognize, and the constant reminder that carriages, not cars, are the most common form of transportation.
What makes this a great novel to me, though, is the voice. The pacing is done well. There is just enough going on to tell a thorough story without losing the reader’s interest. It doesn’t drag the way some period pieces do. This is largely because of the nature of a murder mystery. The looming sense of danger for Jo and her friends helps keep the pages turning.
Bonus: No real love triangle! Yay! There is romantic interest between Jo and two boys, Bram and Eddie, but it’s more focused on choice. It’s obvious from the get-go that neither Jo nor Bram is particularly happy about their arranged marriage, and the relationship with Eddie forms naturally, if a bit quickly.
Bonus Bonus: Interesting female character that isn’t the main character! Fay is a gem. A gem who talks about more than the love interests.
No matter how good a book is, there’s always some bad to it. For me, the things that kept These Shallow Graves from being my favorite were the extreme level of Jo’s ignorance and the predictability.
Coming from the time period they’re in, it’s expected that a proper young lady wouldn’t be overly knowledgeable about things like brothels and the bad parts of town. Jo’s level of ignorance, though, is almost comical. When she goes to meet Eddie late at night and tells him of how a woman offered to help her find work with Della and her girls, she doesn’t understand why Eddie is horrified. It’s comical, but in a cringe-worthy way that screams secondhand embarrassment.
The other major drawback was predictability. This book is driven by it’s twists and turns. Unfortunately, I could sense a lot of these before they came up. While I wasn’t certain, I had an inkling of who the killer may be within the first quarter of the book. Personally, this didn’t take away any of the enjoyment. I like when a mystery makes it possible to string together the answers on my own. For some, though, the predictability may be a major downer.
Bonus: I rolled my eyes hard the moment Jo forgot Eddie has a sister.
I enjoyed every minute of this book, and will likely pass it along to my sister before letting it find a home on my bookshelf.
If you’re a fan of the Victorian Era, New York City, class issues, asylums, journalism, mysteries, and books without senseless love triangles, give this a go.
Did you like this post? Do you want to read more? Consider stopping by Amazon and picking up a copy of Nightfall, the first book of the Starwalkers Series by Christy Harkins.
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