I first heard about Zdrok’s Spectacle duology after I finished Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series last year. In the haze of my book hangover I searched Goodreads for anything that could be remotely similar to Maniscalco’s macabre Young Adult historical mystery/romance. Spectacle was one of the books that was recommended as similar to Stalking, but I didn’t pick it up at the time and instead engrossed myself in Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel trilogy.
I never forgot about Spectacle, though, and the premise continued to intrigue me. I love a good Young Adult historical mystery, and I love them even more when there is something ~magical~ going on.
Here’s the setup of Spectacle: 1880s Paris. Every day the unidentified bodies of people who have died are displayed publicly in the city morgue in hopes that each body can be claimed and identified. Our protagonist, Nathalie, is spending her summer writing the morgue column for a huge Paris newspaper. This is a really uncommon position for a 16 year old girl, so he has to write the column anonymously. Every day she writes about the dead, unidentified bodies of the people she sees through the morgue glass. But when a serial murderer starts terrorizing the city, things get complicated. Nathalie starts having visions about the victims’ last moments, and she starts having weird lapses in memory. This, of course, distresses her, and the story continues as she, her friends, and a very attractive police officer work to understand what’s going on.
The comparisons to Stalking Jack the Ripper are mostly justified– both stories are historical mysteries, and both deal in some fashion with the gruesome monotony of dead bodies. The main characters feel similar too; Audrey Rose and Nathalie could be related in another life. But there are a lot of differences between the series too. While Maniscalco’s Stalking series was largely romance based, the romance here is delicately sprinkled through the story. The mystery here is much more the focus of the plot, and I think that works well for the book as a whole. And, of course, Stalking Jack the Ripper doesn’t have much in the way of fantastical or paranormal elements. In Spectacle, the paranormal is very central to Nathalie’s story and in the development of the mystery plot.
I think other valid comparisons could be made between Spectacle and Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves or Libba Bray’s The Diviners (both of which, coincidentally, I did not care for). The paranormal/fantastical elements of these YA books are also a big part of the narrative, and all of these are historical fiction/fantasy. The Gilded Wolves is actually set in Paris during the exact same time period as Spectacle. But where those books failed to deliver compelling plots for me, Spectacle just worked so well.
The atmosphere built throughout Spectacle is silently spooky and very delightfully Parisian. The build up to the last act is slow and deliberate, and the twists and turns of the last act had me flipping page after page and staying up late. Nathalie’s friends are side characters, but they actually have dimension. Her love interest, Christophe, is nice, understanding, and pretty uncomplicated. Nathalie, herself, is strong-willed, loyal, and not afraid to seek tough answers. She grows a lot through the book, too, and I loved seeing her character develop.
As for what I didn’t like, there isn’t much. I do think that Nathalie could have been aged up, and it would have made more sense for the time period. She feels 18 in the book, not the 16 she actually is, and I would have believed that she would actually be writing this newspaper column more had she been a little older. My understanding is that the sequel takes place two years after the end of this book, so she is actually 18 in the next installment.
All in all, this book is solidly four stars for me, and I will definitely continue on in the series.
Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for the eArc I received in exchange for an honest review.