I requested a review copy of The House at Bishopsgate by Katie Hickman because it has a beautiful cover and it holds itself out to be a richly-textured, historical novel. I was promised that it would be ‘completely absorbing and delightful’ and that I would be taken ‘to a magical land’. Unfortunately for me, and this review, it didn’t deliver any of these things.
In retrospect, part of the problem could’ve been that this book is the third part in a trilogy, which I didn’t realise until well after I finished it. It may explain why so much of the plot seemed really under-cooked. I had many ‘huh?’ moments. Presumably much of the plot had been explained earlier, somewhere else.
Still, if this book wants to be a stand-alone success it really should’ve better explained, for example, how one of the protagonists, Celia, ‘gave birth to a monster. A child with a human body and a fish’s tail. A mermaid baby’. This startling revelation was dropped about a third of the way through the novel, and was barely mentioned again. I still have no explanation for this, or any sense why it matters.
Further on in the novel, we read of an assault scene through which another central character, Annetta, falls in love with her assailant:
The arms of the stranger, the intruder were around her and she was fighting him – twisting and turning and biting and clawing at him with her nails – but he did not let her go, he would not let her go … Despite her terror she had felt an erotic charge so powerful she thought she might faint.
Hmmm. Having a female character feeling amorous whilst being forcibly retrained is an atavistic trope that I don’t think works quite so well in 2017.
And then, the writing itself just isn’t all that inspired: ‘Was his own dog Robin among them? Carew hoped against hope that she were not. If Robin were among them he was done for’. My five year old talks about ‘being done for’ and it seems odd that a published author would actually use the phrase ‘hope against hope’ without a hint of irony.
I knew I was getting to the end of the novel, because my Kindle kindly kept me abreast of my progress. Otherwise, I may not have realised. Hickman did a good job of bringing the plot to some kind of climax, but ultimately, the revelations had an air of momentousness that didn’t fit the underwhelming plot.
For this to be Katie Hickman‘s third novel in this series, and for her to be an ‘international best-seller’, she clearly has a fan base. I’m pleased if her books work for some readers. For me though, The House at Bishopsgate is a pointed reminder of that old adage about a book and its cover.
I received an Advanced Reading Copy of The House of Bishopsgate from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Hopefully I haven’t burnt any bridges.