Review | Jackaby by William Ritter


This is a bingeable series.

Highly bingeable, in fact. Over and done with in five days … and, like a pint of chocolate peanut butter ice cream, my only regret is that it didn’t last longer. Because these are really fun books. And touching. And wholesome. And thoughtful. And well-paced. And full of magic.

AND UGH! THAT ENDING!?!?!?! Ritter, if you’re reading this: THAT WAS SO NOT COOL!

After finishing Changeling last week, I went on a hunt for Ritter’s other works … only to discover Jackaby patiently waiting on my TBR, and all the books available through my local library branch.

Though officially four books, the series reads more like one book … and, given that they’re all reasonably short, it makes sense to treat them as a unit and review them together. So, here we go!

Book 1: Jackaby

After a rather significant misunderstanding, Abigail Rook — runaway and wannabe paleontologist — arrives in New Fiddleham, New England, with no money, no lodging, no work, and no friends.

Enter R. F. Jackaby — a paranormal private detective, in need of an assistant. One part Sherlock, one part the Doctor, one part Newt Scamander: Jackaby is an adorable, kind, and awkward dork with a pretty solid moral compass. Along with Jackaby comes Jenny — the ghost a young woman who was brutally murdered — and Douglas — his former assistant, who was turned into a duck. (It sounds weird. It works brilliantly.)

Over the next week, Abigail and Jackaby work together to solve a series of murders: Jackaby covering the supernatural angle, and Abigail doing some more-ordinary (yet equally important) detective work.

Book 2: Beastly Bones

Jackaby and Abigail travel to Gad’s Valley after receiving a tip from Charlie Cane — police officer extraordinaire and Abigail’s crush — that some strange things are going on.

The story has a lighter, almost silly tone compared to Jackaby — though things become surprisingly dark at the end. Scattered across the pages are some awkwardly adorable moments between Abigail and Charlie which I definitely re-re-re-read. The two are everything.

Book 3: Ghostly Echoes

Jackaby and Abigail return to New Fiddleham, where their attention shifts toward solving Jenny’s murder. However, it quickly becomes obvious that her story is more complicated: Jenny is just one victim in a series of disappearances and deaths, all linked to the mysterious Dire Council.

This is the book where things start to get weird. The story dashes all over the place, and — if I were to write down the events as a point-form summary — it would look like someone vomited supernatural plot points all over the page. Have faith in the process. It comes together in the end …

Book 4: The Dire King

The Dire King marks the series transition from a whodunit mystery to a fantasy romp, with Jackaby, Abigail, and their many collaborators racing to save the world from the machinations of the Dire King. It’s a bit odd and silly … but, after four books of thoughtful development and love, it’ll also rip out your heart in about ten different ways.

Things I liked:

The Character Development. Even though Jackaby’s name is on the series, the four books are fundamentally about Abigail. And, boy, does she grow: from a somewhat-unsteady runaway to a passionate/purpose-driven leader. The best part is that it all feels natural and plot-appropriate. Abigale changes because of her experiences, not because she has to to fulfill a plot point.

Abigail and Charlie. I ship these two so hard.

Jackaby’s Wonder. Despite being a bit grumpy — especially where Abigail’s romance is concerned — Jackaby has this wonderful, child-like sense of wonder about him. We see it in the way he moves throughout his study: protecting and nurturing, and full of giddy awe for all the amazing things he sees. It’s amazing to see a character so in love with the world … and even better to see it in a male character.

It’s Fun. Yeah – it’s silly and sometimes a bit odd, but these books are fun. I had a super enjoyable time reading this series.

Things I disliked:

The Predictability. The books follow a rather predictable murder-mystery formula, with a series of smaller crimes culminating in a larger big baddie. It doesn’t take away from the fun, but there aren’t any huge plot surprises.

The Not-So-Subtle Magical Creatures. I really enjoyed the first book’s treatment of supernatural creatures, as everything felt spooky and covert — something lurking just out of sight. It was easy to imagine Jackaby’s world as our world. But, as the books progress, the supernatural grow more and more visible (and stereotypical), to the point where it’s oh-so-obviously a piece of fantasy. Personal preference, but I really liked the idea of a shadowy and subtle otherworld.

Favourite quote:

I have ceased concerning myself with how things look to others, Abigale Rook. I suggest you do the same. In my experience, others are generally wrong.

And also:

We cannot make the world less awful by being more so ourselves

The Details:

  • The Book: Jackaby by William Ritter
  • Published: 2014 through 2017, Algonquin Young Readers
  • My Copy: KFPL/VIRL
  • Read date: November 26-30
  • Rating: ★★★☆☆ to ★★★★☆
  • You should read this if you … want a fanciful, fast-paced, supernatural mystery
  • Avoid this if you dislike … Sherlock-style adventures

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