Author: Ishbelle Bee
Series: The Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, Esq #1
Blurb: 1888. A little girl called Mirror and her shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human.
John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr. Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree.
Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down...
"The night before I died, I dreamt I had turned into a ladybird."
I will confess I did not actually read the blurb before starting this book (it was the beautiful, beautiful covers) and so about two chapters in I had to pause and go back to read it because - what the heck!? Those covers promise something beautiful - and this was, in a way. But mostly it was bizarre and dark and twisted. In all the best ways.
The story starts with a little girl called Mirror as the narrator. Mirror is charming and sweet but also vaguely unnerving and disturbing. She has something not human inside her and she and her guardian Goliath are seeking a way to exorcise it. Her observations of the world around her were captivating, because one minute she would be naive and innocent and the next wishing death on people (especially her grandfather). She also had a strangely mature air about her so that at times I completely forgot she was a child. Her relationship with Goliath was always a very touching and interesting one although it did change quite a bit over the course of the book. Her effect on Loveheart was also fascinating and I wish they had had more time together.
For the rest of the book the narrative, and the timeline, hop about all over the place so you have to keep careful track of whereabouts in the events you are. But one thing Ishbelle Bee did superbly was how unique each person's narrative voice was. There was an underlying weirdness to each voice and story but you got a different feel from each one. Goliath's narrative felt safe whilst Loveheart's felt exhilarating and tense. The book also featured what I am can best describe as visual onomatopoeia. Which is to say certain words or sentences appeared in different fonts or sizes or positions on the page, to give them an emphasis or an importance. I noticed that the more insane the narrator was the more often their chapters would contain this. It was honestly one of my favourite things about this book.
I've mentioned Loveheart and really, he deserves more of a summary than I can give him. I do not usually root for a madman who goes around wantonly decapitating people, often for no reason (unless you count them serving dry lemon drizzle cake as a good reason). But he was so oddly charming and enchanting that I found, by the end of the book, I was a little bit in love with him. Mr Fingers, the villain, was never quite as menacing as I had hoped he would be. He was depraved and evil, certainly. But I always felt confident in Mirror's ability to beat him. Which did take away some of the tension.
This book is described as an adult fairy tale and it does have that sort of surreal fairy tale quality. There are also plenty of references in the book - for example the character Pomegranate who is offered a deal by the Lord of the Underworld to spend six months with him and six months above ground. But she acts very differently than Persephone! Pomegranate makes only a brief appearance but I did really like her and her Aunt Eva.
Overall I would say that, although I really liked this book I am well aware that it won't be for everyone. If you like your books and your characters to be very dark, and you, like me, like unusual formats in books then I definitely recommend it. I have already read the second book (The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl) and I can tell you that it was just as weird if not more so but that I actually liked the characters even more in the second book. Boo Boo in particular I just loved. I can only hope there will be more of this series (and please can this be a movie - seriously it would be so great!)