The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Cover - Standard EbooksThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is an 1886 gothic novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson, who is most famous for having written both this work and Treasure Island. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde tells the story of a London lawyer, Mr Utterson, who investigates the strange events that surround his friend Dr Jekyll and the mysterious and foreboding man Mr Hyde.

That plot blurb might have surprised you; it certainly would have surprised me had I encountered it before I had read the novella. The fame of this novella is so great that it has grown a life of its own, with most people knowing the plot twist that occurs at the end of the novel without knowing who the main character of the story is.

The important question then is: is the story worth reading if you already know the ending? I think the answer to that is yes, it’s a great book that deserves its fame. That said, if you don’t yet know the ending, do yourself a favour and read the novella before it can be spoiled, as not knowing will add to your enjoyment of it. I certainly wish I hadn’t known the ending before I read it.

One of the reasons why the novella is so good is the writing style. Despite its age, the writing style is very accessible to modern readers (unlike many novels from the time with their long-winded sentences). This is something I also noticed when I first read Treasure Island (which I also heartily recommend, if you are interested in non-fantastic adventure stories). The writing is admirably clear, and wonderfully evocative, making it a pleasure to read.

Stevenson is also a master of building suspension. At its heart, the novella is a mystery story with strong elements of horror, and the suspense at what is going to happen next, and what the solution to the mystery is, is built wonderfully well throughout the novel. Admittedly, the effect of this is somewhat diminished by you already knowing the ending, but the story is good enough at sweeping you away that it’s often easy to forget that you already know the ending as the suspense rises.

I also really admire the narrative structure of the story. Most of the story is told from Mr Utterson’s point of view, but the denouement of the story is told in the form of stories written by two other characters. Mr Utterson is the perfect vehicle for delivering the suspense of the story, but I admire Stevenson’s realisation that the explanation of the mystery works best when told from somebody else’s point of view. And it really works well.

Another strength of the novella is that, because the novella focuses on the mystery of what is going on instead of explicating the details of what is happening, the story can work as an allegory for a number of wildly different things (which I won’t mention just in case somebody doesn’t yet know the ending). This makes the novella a worthwhile read, as it satisfyingly leaves you thinking about the various ways in which it can be read.

Another way in which the novella is satisfying to think about is its genre placement. Gothic applies to it very well, but in addition to that it seems to me to exist at the exact centre point between fantasy and science fiction, with many readers ardently arguing that it belongs in just one or the other of them. As such, it is a fascinating case study for anyone interested in definitions of fantasy and science fiction.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is an expertly crafted, satisfying little story that I would recommend to anyone interested in mysteries with a hint of horror, even if they already know the ending.

Mopsa the Fairy by Jean Ingelow

Mopsa the Fairy CoverMopsa the Fairy is the 1869 children’s novel by British poet and novelist Jean Ingelow. It tells the story of ten-year-old(-ish) Jack who discovers a nest of fairies and is flown to Fairy Land by an albatross.

It was interesting to me to read this text straight after George MacDonald’s Phantastes (review of which can be found here) as Ingelow was directly influenced by MacDonald, and Mopsa the Fairy, like Phantastes, is a pre-fantastic text about the protagonist stumbling into Fairy Land. Most fascinatingly of all for me personally is, that despite these similarities, I enjoyed Mopsa the Fairy despite not having liked Phantastes. in this review I’ll do my best to tease out why that is.

Continue reading Mopsa the Fairy by Jean Ingelow”

Phantastes by George MacDonald

Phantastes CoverPhantastes is a novel by George MacDonald, first published in 1858. It tells the story of Anodos, a man of 21 years, who finds his way into Fairy Land, and wanders through it in search of his Ideal of beauty.

The novel can be said to be a precursor of the fantasy genre. In many ways it is like a fairy tale (its subtitle is, after all, ‘A Faery Romance’), but it develops that genre towards what we know today as fantasy (fantasy, of course, was not a recognised genre in 1858). The result of this is that it straddles the line between those two genres, but were it to be published today, fantasy is undoubtedly the genre it would be placed in. This can be seen in how it was reprinted in 1970 in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series of books as the fourteenth installment. This series was created by Ballantine after the success of The Lord of the Rings and is considered by some to be the series that created the genre of fantasy in book stores. But not only has this book been influential on the creation of the fantasy genre, it also directly influenced many of the most famous writers within that genre. Perhaps most famously, C.S. Lewis cited Phantastes as a book that changed his life.

Continue reading Phantastes by George MacDonald”

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn Book 1)

The Final Empire CoverMistborn: The Final Empire is the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy series Mistborn. The novel focuses on Kelsier, an escaped slave, who is an uncommonly strong magic user, known as a mistborn, who is able to burn all metals (each with their own unique power, such as strength or telekinesis over metals) rather than just one. In the novel, Kelsier aims to re-unite his old thieving crew in order to set up a plot to overthrow the dominion of the Lord Ruler.

 

This is the second novel that Sanderson ever published (and his first series), and it is perhaps the fantasy series that Sanderson is most well known for. Consequently, it is a series that I have been meaning to read for a very long time. I cannot remember how long I have had the book in my library, but it was about five years ago that I first attempted to read it. I read about one hundred of its pages, and then stopped reading. Not because of any fault in the book necessarily, but just because it was one of those moments in my life when I was reading less. Well, recently, I decided to give it another go, and I read the whole novel in just a couple of days. Given the size of the book, that already goes some ways to indicating the quality of this book, but perhaps I should go more in depth about that.

Continue reading Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn Book 1)”

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (Shades of Magic Book 1)

A Darker Shade of Magic CoverA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is the first book in the Shades of Magic series, which is set in a world where parallel Londons exist: Grey, White, Red, and the lost Black. A Darker Shade of Magic follows the lives and intersecting adventures of Kell, one of the few magicians still able to travel between these Londons, and Delilah, a cut-purse from Grey London, the London of our world with no magic.

In this review, I have to begin with the world and concept of this book. It was these, along with the high ratings this book has received, that first drew me in to read this book. I find the concept of parallel Londons, each with different amount of magic in it, to be a fantastic one, and the novel does not disappoint in how it develops this world. The Londons feel cohesive, and the system that Kell works is well thought out and feels real.

Continue reading A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (Shades of Magic Book 1)”

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 2)

A Clash of Kings CoverA Clash of Kings is the second book in George R.R. Martin’s landmark epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. My review of the first book, A Game of Thrones, can be found here. This book continues straight from where the first book left off, and details the war that ravages through Westeros, at the same time as the long summer is slowly but surely ending.

In my review of the first book, I particularly praised Martin’s beautiful prose and his superb characterisations. Both of those elements remain as good here, as they were in the first book. In this book, I particularly noticed the excellence of each of the point of view characters’ character arcs. Each character has their own, very clear, character arc, that the whole of their narrative revolves around. For instance, Jon Snow’s character arc revolves around the theme of keeping to your oaths, and his narrative revolves around his oaths being tested, and his reactions to those tests. Moreover, each of the character arcs rises to a highly satisfying climax, which leave the characters completely changed, and make you eagerly await to read the next instalment in the series.

Continue reading A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 2)”

The City & the City by China Miéville

The City and the City CoverThe City & the City is a standalone novel from China Miéville, which is set in the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma, which exist within the same space. This is not in any supernatural sense: certain streets are completely in just one city, while other streets are partially in both. Sometimes, one floor of a building exists in a different city from the floor above it. Nothing about it goes from realm of the possible to the impossible. In this setting, the novel focuses on Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad as he attempts to solve the murder of a mysterious woman.

It is quite difficult to pin down this novel’s genre. Of course, it’s clear that plot-wise it is a police procedural, but what the genre is setting-wise is much harder question. On the one hand, the setting seems to be constructed much like fantastic secondary worlds, but on the other hand, the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma seem to exist in a very realistic version of our Europe. Furthermore, that Beszel and Ul Qoma exist within the same geographical space seems absurd to the point of fantastic, yet the narrative clearly establishes its non-magical nature. Thus, if the narrative is a fantastic one (like virtually all of Miéville’s other works), it is hard to say where the fantastic lies. One might even be tempted to try and find it in the mysterious historical artefacts from the pre-Cleavage time excavated within the story, but even there, the stories about their magical nature never seem to go beyond being mere conspiracy theories. It is a very disconcerting effect; I feel convinced that the novel is fantasy, but I can’t point to any evidence for that. But maybe that feeling is what the term New Weird is used to signify.

Continue reading The City & the City by China Miéville”