book review: The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

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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.

15 thoughts on “book review: The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

    • The downside of my never DNFing philosophy! Though I guess I was curious enough to uncover the mystery, even if it ended up being rather predictable. This was one of my rare cover buys to be honest (well, I did like the sound of it, but I don’t think I would have felt the need to purchase it if it hadn’t been for the cover). That’ll teach me a lesson. But it is a rather gorgeous naked hardback!

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  1. Oh man, I have this sitting on my shelves and I was so excited about it, for the same reasons you were. I’ll probably give it a little time, to take in some more reviews, so that when I pick it up, I can feel more prepared for a very lukewarm reading experience (a bit like I did with Unbury Carol).

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    • Ugh, I hate to be the bearer of bad news! But this was just not good at all. I was buddy reading with Hadeer, I don’t think she’s quite finished yet but she had a lot of the same criticisms that I did. Hopefully with lowered expectations you’ll get a bit more out of it. Here I was thinking lesbian Victorian thriller was a bulletproof recipe for a genius book. I was so very wrong.

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    • I hate when I feel like a book is insulting the reader’s intelligence by spelling out the obvious. This could have been so much better! The cover is stunning though, I can’t say I’m mad about purchasing it for that reason alone…

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  2. […] 10. The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin.  The fact that a neo-Victorian lesbian thriller was able to be this perfunctory and devoid of passion is just tragic.  This sounded like it could have been wonderfully gothic and haunting and sensual, but instead it’s riddled with melodrama and convenient plot devices and utterly inane characters.  The protagonist Hester waxes eloquent about her love interest Rebekah for 300 pages straight, and in none of those 300 pages does Rebekah display even one (1) personality trait.  Full review here. […]

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