In 1851, within the grand glass arches of London’s Crystal Palace, Albie Mirralls meets his cousin Lizzie for the first–and, as it turns out, last–time. His cousin is from a backward rural village, and Albie expects she will be a simple country girl, but instead he is struck by her inner beauty and by her lovely singing voice, which is beautiful beyond all reckoning. When next he hears of her, many years later, it is to hear news of her death at the hands of her husband, the village shoemaker.
Unable to countenance the rumors that surround his younger cousin’s murder–apparently, her husband thought she had been replaced by one of the “fair folk” and so burned her alive–Albie becomes obsessed with bringing his young cousin’s murderer to justice. With his father’s blessing, as well as that of his young wife, Albie heads to the village of Halfoak to investigate his cousin’s murder. When he arrives, he finds a community in the grip of superstition, nearly every member of which believes Lizzie’s husband acted with the best of intentions and in the service of the village.
There, Albie begins to look into Lizzie’s death and to search for her murderous husband, who has disappeared. But in a village where the rationalism and rule of science of the Industrial Revolution seem to have found little purchase, the answers to the question of what happened to Lizzie and why prove elusive. And the more he learns, the less sure he is that there aren’t mysterious powers at work.
The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood
With such a gorgeous cover and an intriguing synopsis, I was super excited to read The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood. Slow to build, the pacing was problematic enough that it knocked the rating down two stars to three. Other than the pacing, the characters and story itself were absolutely fantastic! An amazing mystery that messes with your mind and keeps you wondering what is happening from start to end.
The characters were extremely interesting and well developed. The narrator was fantastic and reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe’s narrators in which they are strong of conviction and slowly begin to wonder if they are slowly giving in to madness or if madness is suddenly invading the real world. Leading him to wonder whether he is going insane is his wife Helena and her erratic behavior. While I know her behavior was altered to make the reader and narrator wonder whether she was herself or a fae changeling, it didn’t seem to make sense at the end, with the explanations given after everything unravels. I can’t go into it further without getting into spoilers so I’ll leave it at that. Mrs. Gomersal is perfect at her role as well, just so well developed and complex.
The story itself is great and leaves you as a reader confused and constantly wondering what is happening. Are changelings real? Are they not? What is happening? Then once the reveal happens, everything clicks and you realize what a fool you were for not seeing it earlier. It was incredibly well thought out and put together.
Pacing, however, was a big issue for this book. It didn’t pick up for me until around the 50% mark. It was a big hurdle. I kept having to push myself to keep going, telling myself it would pick up. It did, but if I hadn’t stuck with it, I would never have known have great it was in the end.
The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood has fantastic characters and plot, but with troubling pacing, it will take a dedicated reader to reach the payoff.