THE WICKED COMETH by Laura Carlin
Hodder & Stoughton, 2018 (UK)
The Wicked Cometh could have been a perfectly adequate novel had it been written by someone with a modicum more talent for storytelling. It’s unfortunate that a lesbian neo-Victorian thriller should be this devoid of passion and suspense, but as it stands, this was a rather dull and middling read.
From the very first page, everything about this book feels contrived. The premise is frankly absurd: a down on her luck young woman named Hester living in the slums of London gets into an accident one day and is rescued by a handsome and charismatic doctor who insists that she stay with his family to recuperate, and then be tutored by his sister so she has the opportunity to improve her station in life, and if that all sounds a little convenient, it’s because this entire book is driven by coincidence and plot devices. Characters go through the motions as if in a pre-rehearsed pantomime; no one at any point feels present. The decisions they make seem to be solely in the interest of driving the plot forward; all rationality and logic is utterly abandoned to tell this story.
The writing itself is both stilted and melodramatic, a combination that lends itself beautifully to 337 pages (not that I was counting) of telling rather than showing. There isn’t a single personality trait to be found in any one of these characters, but even so, we are simply bashed over the head with Hester’s heavy-handed narration in which she extols the virtues of her tutor Rebekah. But even that is a bit misleading, because I’m not sure what these virtues are, exactly; only that Rebekah is the greatest person to ever have lived. Hester also likes to spell out exactly what is happening at any given time, in case we missed it: “With one faithless action I have changed the direction of both our destinies and unwittingly discarded my chance of future happiness.” This isn’t the kind of thing you should have to say; you should have faith as an author that this is being communicated by the narrative itself. You shouldn’t need your characters to narrate the story to the reader as they’re living it.
I really did want to love this, but frankly the whole thing felt silly and ridiculous, and not at all the sinister and atmospheric gothic novel I had been hoping for. Two stars for the novelty of seeing an LGBT romance in a historical fiction novel where homophobia isn’t the main driving force in the narrative. Otherwise this was just stale and derivative.